City of Macon: Racial hiring oversight no longer needed

An attorney for the city of Macon argued Thursday in U.S. District Court that the federal monitoring of hiring and promotion practices at the city police and fire departments is no longer needed.

The two departments have been monitored since 1981, stemming from a consent decree issued by the court to correct and end racial discrimination in hiring and promoting practices, attorney Tom Richardson said in a court hearing.

Richardson said the purpose of the decree has been achieved and that safeguards are in place to prevent further discrimination.

“The time for oversight is over,” he said. “We don’t need it anymore.”

Jay Adelstein, an attorney representing the U.S. Department of Justice, argued that while the city has made “great strides,” monitoring should continue.

A class-action lawsuit was filed in 1976 by a group of black police officers and firefighters who accused Macon of discriminatory promotions. In 1981, a consent decree issued by the federal court required the city to match the racial and gender composition of the police and fire departments’ administrative structure with the population of Macon and Bibb County.

But in 2000, a group of white firefighters and police officers filed another lawsuit alleging discrimination based on their race and gender.

In 2004, the city was ordered to create a race- and gender-neutral process for hiring and promotion.

A process was approved by the court in 2006 that called for police officers and firefighters to be tested on skills related to their jobs. The test scores were then used to form a ranking of names to be used by leaders in the departments to select people for promotion, Macon Personnel Director Ben Hubbard testified Thursday.

Hubbard said no racial discrimination complaints have been filed that have reached the level of a court ruling.

Adelstein said new tests used for hiring and promotion are being developed, and he has concerns about the fairness of the tests.

Attorneys representing parties in the 1976 and 2000 lawsuits made statements to the court Thursday stating they don’t object to federal oversight ending.

Allan Leroy Parks, the attorney representing the firefighters and police officers in the 2000 lawsuit, argued that the Justice Department didn’t present evidence at the hearing of anyone who has suffered from discrimination since the 2000 lawsuit.

Fire Chief Marvin Riggins and Police Chief Mike Burns testified Thursday that they operate their departments in a race-neutral fashion and their departments no longer need federal monitoring.

Judge Hugh Lawson is expected to make a decision about whether further monitoring is necessary and issue a court order at a later date.

The Bibb County school system was released from a desegregation order after more than three decades of court monitoring of race-related issues in 2007.

Information from The Telegraph’s archives was included in this report. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.