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Diversity effort falls short

Andy Ouriel • Aug 25, 2015 at 1:12 AM

SANDUSKY

ouriel@sanduskyregister.com

Well into the 21st century, and Sandusky’s population continues to become more diverse.

But the faces employed by the city's police and fire departments seemingly predate feminism and the civil rights movement.

No noticeable progress has occurred to make the already white- and male-dominated full-time Sandusky safety services roster anymore diverse, according to a Register analysis of local and federal data.

A year ago, the Register published an investigation regarding the downward trend of how few women, blacks, Hispanics and other minorities work for the city’s fire and police departments today compared to 10 and 20 years ago.

Fast-forward one year, and the already rock-bottom figures sunk a bit deeper.

Among the most noteworthy 2014 findings, cited from data obtained through a public records request:

• No women work as city firefighters, down from three each in 1993 and 2003 and two in 2013.

• One Hispanic works for the fire department, down from two a year ago.

• The police department’s minorities — three women, two blacks and one Hispanic — remains unchanged from a year ago.

Diversity disappointment

When asked by the Register, several women and minority police officers and firefighters seemed discouraged about the lack of a diverse workforce.

“Yes it does concern me that there are not more minority employees,” Sandusky police Officer Ernesto Hernandez, a Hispanic, told the Register a year ago.

Said black Sandusky firefighter Derrick Shepherd in that same story: “Yes it bothers me. There should be more people of diversity representing the department.”

And longtime Sandusky fire Lt. Toni Schmidt, a woman, who retired within the past year, said, “I really wish more women were interested.”

Last year, city officials told the Register they’d step up efforts to recruit more minorities and engage area students — especially women, blacks and Hispanics — about the benefits of a career in public service.

But their efforts haven't delivered results yet, considering no new blacks, Hispanics or women work for Sandusky police or fire.

City officials pointed toward two main reasons for the lack of diversity:

• Fiscal challenges, highlighted by officials slashing about $1 million from their $16 million everyday operating budget, funding critical services such as fire and police, from earlier this year. The drained budget created many problems, including a hiring freeze in both departments. In fact, through attrition by way of retirements and relocations, Sandusky fire dropped from 53 full-time firefighters a year ago to 48 today.

• Fewer minorities taking a civil service exam, the main gateway to landing a job with Sandusky fire or police. Potential candidates take this test, and commanders usually choose the top one or two candidates — regardless of sex, race and ethnicity — for the sparse openings.

Better reflection

Regardless of money woes and hiring standards, city officials seemed concerned about the lack of diversity, including three main city officials — all white men — overseeing staffing:

• Sandusky city manager Eric Wobser: "We are committed to identifying best practices and working with the Sandusky city commission and other local stakeholders to ensure what we are doing all that we can to employ a diverse safety force for the citizens in Sandusky."

• Sandusky police Chief John Orzech: "We need to do a better job of recruiting all qualified candidates that want to work for our agency. Diversity is critical in our profession as it offers our community and department unique perspectives that are needed to reflect the community's' demographics. We strive and will look to improve our recruiting practices not only for minorities but for all qualified candidates that will represent our values and mission."

• Sandusky fire Chief Dave Degnan: "If you have a diverse workforce, males and females and people of different races, that helps you become more diverse in your thinking."

Almost 30 percent of Sandusky's population, totaling 25,000 people or so, consider themselves non-white.

Women, meanwhile, account for more than half of Sandusky’s population.

“Sandusky is a diverse city, and our ability to maintain the goodwill of our citizens involves not only providing quality services but also ensuring that the workforce is representative of the people who live and work in the community,” said Sandusky city commissioner Naomi Twine, a black woman. “The commission is committed to working with city staff to partner with stakeholders, including the local schools and other community partners, to identify how we can create a pipeline of talented, qualified and diverse candidates to apply for future positions with the city of Sandusky.”

There is, however, some optimism.

Of the city's four most recent hires, in the water and building departments, they are all either women or black.

"We have limitations in our ability to hire diverse candidates in the police and fire departments," Wobser said. "But where we have opportunities to hire diverse candidates in other departments, we do."

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