Six months after Macon was released from a federal consent order that governed public safety job promotions, city officials say it could be another seven months before firefighters and police officers can be promoted to certain ranks.
The goal for promotions is now Oct. 1, said Andrew Blascovich, a spokesman for Maacon Mayor Robert Reichert. While the city was subject to monitoring under the order, a federal judge approved a plan calling for firefighters and police officers to be tested on skills related to their jobs. Previously, the city had been required to match the racial and gender composition of the police and fire departments’ administrative structure with the population of Macon and Bibb County.
Currently, test scores are used to form a ranking of employees, a registry, that leaders in the departments use to help select people for promotions.
But the registries for the positions of fire sergeant, police sergeant and police lieutenant expired in September 2009, a month after the consent order was lifted. Without an active registry, vacant positions within those ranks can’t be filled.
Officials in both departments either have or expect to have vacancies they can’t fill until a new test is developed.
Police Chief Mike Burns said he’s worried that he’ll have a shortage of supervisors to manage younger officers.
“I’m worried about the efficiency of the department,” he said.
On Aug. 14, 2009, the city was released from federal oversight of hiring and promotion practices.
The monitoring had come about after a class-action suit was filed in 1976 by a group of black police officers and firefighters, who accused Macon of discriminatory promotions.
The consent decree was issued by the federal court in 1981, ordering Macon to correct and end racial discrimination in hiring and promotion.
In 2004, the court ordered the city to create a race- and gender-neutral process for hiring and promotion after a group of white firefighters and police officers filed another discrimination suit.
The current test-based process for promotion was approved by the court in 2006. Leaders must select from the top five names on each list of scores, or promotion registry, for each position.
Blascovich said the city was shopping for a vendor to write the promotion tests at the time the consent order was lifted.
“Even though we’re not under the consent decree, we’re doing this to provide fair promotions in the fire and police departments,” he said.
The city has chosen the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, based at the University of Georgia in Athens, as the new test provider, Blascovich said. The choice will be submitted to the City Council by the end of the month for its consideration.
While the contract hasn’t been finalized, making the change in the vendor has the potential to save more than $20,000. The city formerly used Field Consulting Group based in McLean, Va., he said.
The city still has active promotions lists from testing in June 2009 for ranks of fire lieutenant, fire captain and police captain. The lists are scheduled to expire in June 2011.
Macon-Bibb County Fire Chief Marvin Riggins said he anticipates firefighter retirements to create four sergeant vacancies in the near future.
While waiting on the test to be prepared, administered and graded, Riggins said he plans to appoint firefighters to fulfill the responsibilities associated with the vacant positions and pay those firefighters extra.
“I would hope that those would be the ones eligible for promotion,” he said. “But there’s no guarantee.”
Burns said he expects to have five vacant police lieutenant positions and eight vacant sergeant positions by early March.
During a previous occasion when the department had open positions, many of the officers temporarily given extra responsibility without the benefit of a full promotion “treaded water” and didn’t want to make the tough decisions that might affect their chances of being promoted, he said.
What’s more, many of the officers temporarily put in higher-ranking positions weren’t the officers promoted based on test scores, he said.
“The last time we made authorized positions, it was a disaster,” Burns said.
As a result, he said he doesn’t plan to fill the vacant sergeant and lieutenant positions until officers are actually promoted. By not having the positions filled, the department will have fewer supervisors.
Burns said he’s concerned that morale will be affected — officers who have the potential to be promoted as well as lower-ranking officers lining up to fill the promoted officers’ shoes. An increase in pay and the effect the raise has on an officer’s retirement benefits weigh heavily in officers’ minds as they anticipate a promotion.
Besides the existing vacancies, the police department has several people eligible to retire in the coming months, Burns said.
“I hope I don’t have any more supervisors retire or leave for other jobs until we have the promotional list in place,” he said. “I have a young department, and proper supervision is critical.”
Information from The Telegraph’s archives was included in this report.
To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.