Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/0429diversity29.html

Few minorities fill top jobs in county
Officials at odds on reasons why

Christina Leonard
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 29, 2003 12:00 AM

Minority populations within Maricopa County continue to explode, but those groups are almost invisible within the top ranks of county government.

Of the 36 top directors or chief officers - those who earn more than $90,000 a year - only two are minorities, a Republic analysis shows. Minority
groups are well represented in the county's general workforce, mostly in low-paying jobs.

"At the senior management level, we do not have numbers reflective of the community at large," County Administrator David Smith said, who has pledged an aggressive push to solve the problem. "Frankly, I'm always interested in any minority candidate that makes it into the merit-selection ranks as a finalist.

"That, generally speaking, is our problem."

Ben Arredondo, deputy superintendent of schools, is one of the two minorities among the 36 county managers who make major policy decisions. He
ranks 34th out of the 36 county directors or chief officers who annually earn $90,000 or more, based on payroll information supplied by county administration in December 2002 and the county court system and Maricopa Integrated Health System. The second is human resources director Gwynn Simpson, who was hired in February.

Arredondo said Superintendent Sandra Dowling made a commitment by appointing him to his position. He said the county overall isn't doing enough to recruit minorities.

"Qualified people come in all colors," he said. "The name of the game is results."

The county employs about 15,700 people in jobs that range from sheriff's deputies to accountants to dentists. County officials say they don't track employees by race, but must report aggregate figures to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission every two years.

Statistical analysis

The labor statistics show minorities made up about 20 percent of the labor pool, and the county's workforce was about 29 percent minority in 2001, the latest year for which figures are available.

However, those same figures show that the county had only 40 minority employees out of 498 earning $70,000 or more a year. That number should be closer to 99 minorities to equal the percentage in the labor force.

"I'm appalled," said Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, the only woman and Hispanic on the elected five-member Board of Supervisors. "I yell about it all the time. You can ask anyone."

Although Wilcox said there's no excuse for the county, officials have offered several explanations. They say there's a limited talent pool, and many of the county's senior minority staffers have been hired away.

The county hasn't been able to establish a successful program to cultivate minorities to move through the ranks, and management cuts in the 1990s tightened positions, many of which never reopened.

Minorities make up about 34 percent of the population in Maricopa County, according to figures from the 2000 U.S. census. Experts say the numbers could cause concern should the county ever face litigation: If a minority sued for racial discrimination, the figures could help corroborate allegations.

Stephen Montoya, a civil rights attorney in Phoenix, said he'd likely look at the number of minority employees, their retention and promotion data, and the county's history of complaints.

"I've heard complaints from people that the county is dominated by a clique of White males who exclude everyone else from the clique," he said.

"That doesn't sound shocking or surprising to me. The power demography of the Valley is consistent with that."

Montoya said the issue, one that permeates municipalities and private corporations as well, might have been overlooked for so long because minority communities in the Valley have been passive.

State Rep. Steve Gallardo, who is with the Coalition for Latino Political Action, said that people are paying attention, especially to the lack of representation for the growing Hispanic population. Although his group has focused mostly on Phoenix city government, it is turning its sights on the county.

"We need to find out what's broken here, what do we have to do to change it," he said. "We do have qualified folks out there that can take these director positions."

Phoenix has come under fire within lawsuits and media for low Hispanic representation, but county officials say the city has succeeded somewhat by
promoting and cultivating managers from within.

When Smith arrived at the county eight years ago, he had made equal opportunity a priority but assumed the issue would become routine and part of the culture. That didn't happen.

Smith has recommitted his efforts and made enhancing diversity part of his performance plan this year. He recently hired Simpson at an annual salary of $107,000.

Simpson doesn't like talking numbers or quotas, preferring to use the term "visibility."

"We will identify a certain number of positions open and will try to increase visibility of women and minorities," she said. "But we're not going to establish targets because we're not allowed to."

Comprehensive plan

By law, employers cannot force workers to disclose their racial background.

Simpson said she's working on a comprehensive diversity plan for the county that will include everything from diversity training to recruiting. Wilcox also wants to conduct a disparity study, saying "we have to put it in people's faces and say 'Look, folks, this is something we really have to push.' "

Smith said the administration is progressive in hiring and promoting women at all levels, but The Republic analysis shows women still fall short of reaching equality with men at the county's top ranks.

The Republic analysis showed that women made up about 25 percent of the county's top ranks in power and pay. Of the 36 positions, nine are held by women.

In December, a Maricopa County jury awarded a former transportation department employee $105,000 after she filed a lawsuit claiming she was discriminated against because she's a woman. She claimed she wasn't paid the same as male employees for equal skill and responsibility.

"It's a hard issue," Wilcox said. "You have to push it to the hilt, and we're trying to stay on top of it."