By Ray Richardson
LOS ANGELES – A coalition of civil rights activists and community leaders is calling for the City Council to pass a resolution that will increase employment opportunities for African Americans on the staffs of council members.
At least five council members, including City Council President Paul Krekorian, do not have an African American working on their staffs.
“There has to be a fundamental belief that the city operates better when we have more diversity,” said civil rights attorney Areva Martin, president and CEO of Special Needs Network. “We’re asking for a city hall that reflects the racial makeup of the city.”
Based on current U.S. Census Bureau data, African Americans represent 9% of the population in Los Angeles.
Martin is part of a nine-member coalition that sent a letter to Krekorian on Jan. 18 proposing that the City Council pass a resolution called the “Tom Bradley Rule,” named after the former Los Angeles mayor who was a major supporter of diversity during his 20 years in office.
Krekorian, who represents the 2nd District in the San Fernando Valley, has yet to issue a formal response to the group’s letter, but he spoke to coalition member Najee Ali and indicated to Ali that he “would take a look at it.”
“We’re hopeful the resolution gets introduced in a couple of weeks during Black History Month,” said Ali, president of Project Islamic Hope. “It’s important to push this effort and draw attention to a dirty little secret in city hall hiring. Folks who talk about fairness and justice are not practicing equity in their own office.”
The resolution would have to be presented to the City Council floor for discussion before a vote is taken. Ali expressed hope that Krekorian or 9th District Councilman Curren Price would introduce the resolution. At the moment, Ali said there are no plans for a meeting with Krekorian or other council members.
“We just want to move forward and get the resolution introduced,” Ali said.
Coalition members pointed to the racist taped recording involving four Latino leaders as the catalyst to push for more diversity hiring on City Council staffs. Many of the inflammatory comments were aimed at African Americans, which raised the issue of the lack of African Americans working in a variety of positions in City Hall.
“Having all races represented on staffs sensitizes council members to the impact they have on people and how they do their jobs,” Martin said. “What this group hopes to achieve is raising the issue, bringing awareness to it and seeing changes.”
In the letter to Krekorian, the coalition makes reference to the National Football League’s “Rooney Rule,” a policy implemented by the NFL in 2003 to help the league address diversity concerns, particularly in the hiring of Black head coaches.
The Rooney Rule, named after late Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, is designed to ensure that a certain number of minority candidates are interviewed for head coaching and other high-level positions before decisions are made.
Coalition members envision the same purpose for the “Tom Bradley Rule,” although they realize the challenges they face even if the resolution is passed. Will council members comply with the “Tom Bradley Rule”?
Critics of the NFL’s Rooney Rule claim the policy is useless because team owners interview minority candidates just to “check a box,” then hire a non-minority for the position. Only two of the NFL’s teams currently have a Black head coach.
“The Rooney Rule has proven to be a system that doesn’t work,” said Los Angeles Urban League President Michael Lawson, a member of the coalition. “Even though the owners aren’t always playing by the rules, it’s a step in the right direction. We have to do the same thing here.
“We have to make sure qualified candidates get interviewed and the most qualified person is hired. The status quo has to stop.”
Ali said he knows several longtime City Hall employees who have attempted to join staffs of council members but have not been given interviews.
Karen Bass’ election as Mayor of Los Angeles is viewed by the coalition as a potential turning point in the push for diversity in City Hall. Krekorian has more authority over the City Council than Bass, but the coalition is hopeful that Bass’ presence and influence breaks down hiring barriers.
“If you don’t have someone at the top with a real commitment to diversity, it won’t happen,” Martin said. “We have someone like that now with Bass. She’s the role model for a diverse staff. She sets the example.”
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at email@example.com.