Manchester leaders work toward increasing equity in hiring

Jesse Leavenworth, Hartford Courant
·3 min read

Taking a cue from the NFL, Manchester’s board of directors is working to ensure the broadest diversity among candidates for town jobs.

The board seeks to formalize an ongoing effort to cast the widest net possible, particularly for higher level positions, General Manager Scott Shanley said Wednesday.

“It’s about the candidate pool, bottom line, and working hard to broaden the candidate pool so that we are getting a greater diversity in the pool,” Shanley said.

Board member Tim Bergin, who is spearheading the effort, referred to the NFL’s Rooney Rule, adopted in 2003. Named after former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, the league policy requires every team with head coaching and other vacancies to interview minority and female candidates. Corporations and municipalities, including Pittsburgh, have adopted similar policies.

The goal in drafting a local resolution, Bergin said, is not to establish racial quotas, but to ensure that people of color and women are in the running for public positions and ultimately that town staff reflects the town’s diverse population.

The conversation about equity in hiring recently has focused on the fire chief’s vacancy after Chief David Billings retired. At the board of directors’ March 2 meeting, Brookfield Street resident Linda Harris said she knew at least one person of color had applied for the chief’s job, according to meeting minutes. Harris called for a diverse group of people to have a voice in narrowing the field and choosing a final candidate.

Grandview Street resident Colin McNamara said at the same meeting, according to minutes, that diversity is great, but the best candidate, no matter his or her skin color, should be hired.

Director Pamela Floyd-Cranford spoke at the meeting about the lack of diversity in the town staff.

“She stated only two people of color have been hired in town leadership positions since she has been on the board of directors and that the community is taking note,” according to minutes.

Manchester’s hiring process, formerly as simple as posting ads in a newspaper or two, now involves many publications and websites, Shanley said.

“There just is no single source anymore,” he said. “The key is to use a wide variety of different avenues to reach folks.”

The equity in hiring efforts have been ongoing. In 2018, as the town sought to hire three firefighter/paramedics, directors discussed remedies for a lack of diversity among emergency responders. The Fire/Rescue/EMS Department was 97.5% male and 96.3% white. Statewide, 99% of career firefighters were male, 84.3% are white, 9% are Hispanic and 5.7% are African American.

Challenges that Shanley talked about at the time remain, he said Wednesday, including a human resources department with only two workers devoted to recruiting and hiring — one of whom spent 75% of her time hiring police officers. But the challenges are deeper still, he said.

“How is the community viewed? What are the structural ‘givens’ that practically inhibit the candidate pool? What are the barriers that may be invisible to those of us within the predominant culture?” Shanley said. “These are the things we are working to address.”

Jesse Leavenworth can be reached at jleavenworth@courant.com