Job Security 

Oakland councilman accuses city administrator of defying the law in order to safeguard black jobs.

Allegations of racism and discrimination have roiled Oakland City Hall in the past six months. They first erupted at Mayor Ron Dellums' inauguration, when black audience members booed and hissed Latino City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente. Now De La Fuente says City Administrator Deborah Edgerly has openly defied a law in order to protect city jobs for African Americans.

De La Fuente made the allegations last week during a fractious hearing over Oakland's Equal Access Ordinance. The 2001 law required that the city favor bilingual candidates for city jobs that require interaction with the public. The goal was to make services more accessible to non-English-speakers.

But during the hearing, it became evident that Edgerly had never fully implemented the law. "I believe this is deliberate," De La Fuente said at the hearing. In a later interview, he said he "absolutely" believed Edgerly and her staff refused to institute the law because it might result in fewer city jobs for blacks.

Edgerly, who is black, defended her record, saying her office has made strides translating written city documents into other languages and noted that Oakland offers translation services by phone. She admitted that she had not made it a priority to hire bilingual speakers, but she denied she was trying to protect black jobs. "There's going to be enough jobs for everyone," she said. "We have four hundred vacancies."

But a new study commissioned by the city shows that city jobs have been a haven for blacks — and not for Latinos and Asian Americans. The study found that the percentage of blacks working in most city job categories exceeded the percentage available in Oakland's general workforce for those types of jobs. Latinos and Asian Americans, meanwhile, were underrepresented in several categories. It does not make the same comparison for Caucasians.

The study, conducted by Eleanor Ramsey and her firm Mason Tillman Associates, contrasts starkly with another recent report by her firm that claimed blacks were getting too few city contracts. In the new study, for instance, Ramsey's team found that 40 percent of high-level city positions were filled by African Americans, although blacks made up only 32 percent of the general Oakland workforce available for those jobs. Together, Latinos and Asian Americans held about 20 percent of those positions.

Among service and maintenance workers, blacks held 69 percent of the city jobs, representing more than double the 32 percent Ramsey deemed available in Oakland's general workforce.

If Edgerly were indeed protecting black jobs the city council couldn't sanction her. The city administrator reports directly to the mayor. "We can scream and yell at people all we want, but at the end of the day, they can walk away from us and do nothing," De La Fuente said. For his part, Dellums "100 percent supports equal access," notes spokeswoman Karen Stevenson. "We intend to implement the law immediately."


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