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Ruling affirms Rocky staffing

Program has led to a more diverse S.L. work force

SHARE Ruling affirms Rocky staffing

Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson considers his affirmative action plan to be on solid legal footing following a U.S. Supreme Court decision this week that upheld certain types of affirmative action plans while outlawing others.

In fact, the plan — an executive order passed shortly after Anderson took office in 2000 — closely comports to a University of Michigan Law School admissions plan, which the court upheld. That plan considers an applicant's race along with other factors for admission.

"(The ruling) validated the city's affirmative action program," Anderson said Tuesday. "We've never assigned a point system or set quotas, but we have emphasized aggressive recruitment in the minority community."

Under Anderson's order, department heads are urged to "take affirmative action to recruit, hire, train, retain and promote qualified individuals who will add to the diversity of our work force.

The goal, Anderson says, is to create a work force that is "more in line with the ethnic make-up of the population."

Anderson demands a quarterly written accounting from department leaders about their hiring efforts. And before each board or commission appointment is finalized, he receives a note explaining how the appointment will affect the ethnic makeup of that board or commission.

And the plan, which is unique in local and state government in Utah, is fitting its design, although Anderson insists there is more work to be done.

During the first three years and three months of Anderson's mayoral tenure — from Dec. 31, 1999 to March 31, 2003 — the number of Hispanic employees increased 14.8 percent from 162 to 186, African-American employees grew 21 percent from 33 to 40, Asians/Pacific Islanders burgeoned 12.7 percent from 63 to 71 and Native Americans jumped 46.2 percent from 13 to 19.

Similarly, the number of Hispanics holding "professional" positions — jobs that generally require college degrees like accountants, engineers, attorneys, etc. — increased 69.2 percent from 13 to 22. The number of African-American professionals grew from four to 11, Asians/Pacific Islanders ballooned from 10 to 14 and Native American professionals jumped from two to five.

"All in all, when you look at the numbers, I think he's very much there," said Sam Guevara, president-elect of the Salt Lake Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "As far as Hispanics there's 14 to 15 percent, that's what's good about it."

The Salt Lake City Council has a similar diversity plan in place to hire "individuals of diverse backgrounds." The council currently has three ethnic minorities on its 12-member staff.

While largely successful in its stated goal to diversify the city's work force, Anderson's plan is somewhat unique in Utah.

For instance, other large cities like Sandy and West Valley City don't have affirmative action plans, and the state of Utah, under Gov. Mike Leavitt, has opted against affirmative action. Instead, those locales have state-mandated Equal Employment Opportunity plans, which base hiring practices solely on employees' ability to perform the job regardless of race.

"It guarantees that everyone in the state will have equal standing in different state actions," Utah Department of Human Resource Management spokesman Jeff Herring said. "We will not discriminate."

Salt Lake County does have an affirmative action plan, but the plan is for 1999-2001 and hasn't been updated because the county is waiting for new census data to be released, County Equal Employment Opportunity Director Debora Smith said.

"It sounds like we're behind and we are, because we don't have the federal data," she said.

Like Smith, Anderson argues that diversity of race is important to a healthy work force. Anderson takes the additional step of saying the city should give an ethnic minority applicant a job over a similarly qualified white person because that person is an ethnic minority.

"If in the past there had been greater attention to diversity in recruiting and hiring practices, perhaps there would be less weight attached to factors like ethnicity today," he said.

For evidence, he points to his own office of 23 staffers. Eight employees, or 35 percent, are ethnic minorities, and Anderson calls it a mini "United Nations."

"We have achieved tremendous diversity in the mayor's office, but there has never been a compromise in terms of ability to contribute," he said.

Salt Lake City Human Resource Department Director Brenda Hancock credits Anderson for keeping the pressure continually on department heads to diversify.

"Mainly our goals are recruitment and looking as hard as we can to remove the artificial barriers," she said.

E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com