Verify: Did Spokane fire chief position bring in diverse applicant pool?

Verify: Did Spokane fire chief position bring in diverse applicant pool?

SPOKANE, Wash. – Spokane City leaders have said that increasing diversity is a top priority, especially as the search continues for the next Spokane Fire Chief.

Just last week, the mayor said the position “appealed to a diverse and very qualified applicant pool.” KREM 2 dug deeper and learned four of the five finalists for the position are still middle aged white men. KREM 2 wants to know if the city is following through on its own goal to increase diversity in its leadership ranks.

Mayor David Condon is approaching diversity in city hiring like no Spokane mayor has before. In just one term, he created a task force to increase diversity in the city's hiring and appointed the first-ever Director of Multi-Cultural Affairs, Gloria Ochoa-Bruck.

“The mayor, one of his biggest pushes is to ensure that the government that's serving the community represents the community that we serve,” said Ochoa-Bruck.

It seems like a simple concept, which is proving to be anything but. The most recent reminder is this week's final five candidates vying to become Spokane's next fire chief.

“I would suggest that you would often want to have more diverse, but the reality is that those that are eligible and qualified, brings in the years of experience. And so you're selecting folks that are in the workforce 20 plus years, and graduated levels of authority and responsibility. In this case, you do have a limited background,” said Condon.

KREM 2 requested the breakdown of all 28 candidates who applied for the fire chief position. They included 26 men, two women and only one African American. City leaders said eight applicants did not meet even the minimum requirements of the job. City leaders said it is an issue fire departments, in particular, are struggling with nationwide. KREM 2 asked the mayor if it concerns him that the candidates are mostly white men.

“Well, as I said, as you do the qualifications and who you're coming from, the reality is that those that are currently in the system that have the magnitude and authority and to make them successful, that's who you're drawing from,” said Condon.

KREM 2 asked Ochoa-Bruck the same question and she gave a similar response.

“Well, as I was indicating earlier, across the country, fire is one of the most impacted professions of not being able to have gender and racial representation. It just has to do with the candidate pool being very shallow,” she said.

But, when KREM 2 posed the question to Phil Tyler, the former President of Spokane's chapter of the NAACP, we got a different answer.

“If your recruitment literature, if your recruitment collateral is depicting simply white males, or even white females, then you're going to attract that. The statement of people of color, and people of different diverse backgrounds and genders, are not applying, I'm not sure how factual that is. Surely the data would prove that,” Tyler said.

As KREM 2 first reported back in February, U.S. census data shows Spokane's population is 82 percent white, while those making up the city's leadership is more than 95 percent white. There are 35 women in the city's administration and just four racial minorities. It is important to note, the vast majority of Spokane's 2,000 employees are hired through the Civil Service Division, which uses standardized testing to choose the best candidates. Less than 100, cabinet and administration positions, like the fire chief, are appointed directly by the mayor.

“Well, I think that's a key issue. And that's what I'm working with the Civil Service Commission to do. I think it's in their interest, and in ours to do that,” Condon said.

Condon admits progress is slow. So slow that some are questioning if the city's committees and task forces are really getting the job done.

“There has to be a different outreach as well. Not just, come to our preconceived or our pre-organized event. Just go into the community itself. Have those conversations and listen to the stories. And perhaps that informs you of a different way to do recruiting,” Tyler said.

KREM 2 asked the mayor what he would say to the people who criticize the city for not doing enough to hire minorities.

“I would say, look at my administration that are not controlled by civil service. It's a critical thing that I look at. And on any given week or month as I appoint to the positions that I have the authority to appoint to, you'll see a broad cross-section,” said Condon.

He said as more diverse hires are made, it becomes an issue of keeping them as city employees, to become the next generation of city leaders.

“We see incremental changes, some of them seem very small, but the impact, I think, will be seen years from now,” said Condon.

In the end, when the mayor said the fire chief position brought in a diverse and very qualified applicant pool, can KREM 2 verify that? We can't say yes, because the finalists are still pretty homogenous. But we can't say no, because, as the mayor said, this is a process that takes time. We'll put our final answer in the middle, still unknown at this point. Even with the majority of these candidates being white men, there is still a one in five chance that the new fire chief could be a woman, which would be a first for Spokane.

The next step in this process is the in-person panel interview coming up on Thursday. The candidates will be meeting with the hiring committees, and then there will be an opportunity for them to meet with the public. It will be very similar to what we saw in the search for a police chief last year.

Verify: Sources

  • Spokane Mayor David Condon
  • Director of Multi-Cultural Affairs Gloria Ochoa-Bruck
  • Former head of Spokane NAACP

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© 2017 KREM-TV


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