Macon public safety officials welcome lift of oversight

Hiring and promotions at the Macon police and Macon-Bibb County fire departments will be more efficient and happen faster without federal oversight, Mayor Robert Reichert said Monday.

“We won’t have to have the court approve everything we do,” Reichert said.

A 28-year-old consent decree, lifted Friday, previously had required federal monitoring to correct and end racial discrimination in hiring and promoting practices.

Reichert expressed thanks to the two departments and the city’s human resources department at an afternoon news conference.

He said he’s confident Macon won’t return to a practice of discrimination.

“We are committed to hiring and promotion procedures based on merit, not on prejudice,” Reichert said.

Police officers, firefighters and prospective employees for the two departments are tested on skills related to their jobs, the city’s human resources director, Ben Hubbard, testified in federal court last week.

The test scores are then used to form a ranking of names used by department leaders to select people for promotion and hiring, he said.

Hubbard said three new tests used for promotion are being developed and are expected to be complete by the end of 2009.

Police Chief Mike Burns and Fire Chief Marvin Riggins said there are no vacancies in their departments.

Although the consent decree has been lifted, Reichert said the city’s compliance office will remain open to receive and investigate employee grievances.

“It’s a good safeguard to have,” he said.

Police Maj. Brady Fields was a private in 1976 when he and several other police officers and firefighters filed a class-action suit accusing the city of making discriminatory promotions.

He said he was promoted to the rank of sergeant shortly after a 1981 consent decree in U.S. District 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.

A group of white firefighters and police officers filed another suit in 2000, 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 promotions.

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.

Fields said the end to federal monitoring has been a “long-awaited day.”

He likened watching the changes in hiring and promotion practices to raising a child, watching it being born and then growing into adulthood.

“Seeing an end to it is great,” Fields said.

Information from The Telegraph’s archives was included in this report.

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.