Kent OK Without AA Program

November 21, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — The new state constitutional amendment that bans affirmative action programs for public-sector hiring will not have any effect on KentCounty's drive to have a work force that fully represents the racial composition of the county.

But at the same time, commissioners know they need to add more Hispanics to the county's payroll in order to meet that hiring goal.

"I don't anticipate any changes to EEO. We don't have an affirmative action program, we just hire the best person available," said Thomas Carnegie, manager of the county's Equal Employment Opportunity office, of the passage of Proposal 2.

"It's going to take some court rulings to sort that out. But it doesn't mean that you can't talk to people," he added.

Carnegie presented the 2005 EEO report to commissioners last week and said roughly 16 percent of the county's total work force of 1,875 are minorities. African-Americans make up slightly more than 10 percent of all employees, while Hispanics account for 3.25 percent, Asians for 1.33 percent, and Native Americans for 0.75 percent.

According to the 2000 Metropolitan Statistical Abstract, which includes areas outside of KentCounty, whites comprise 86 percent of the labor force. The MSA reports that African-Americans and Hispanics each are 5.5 percent of the labor force, while Asians are 1.4 percent. Multiracial individuals are 1.5 percent of the MSA work force.

"I think our numbers are good. We are watching our turnover and we are hiring at good numbers," said Carnegie.

Whites, African-Americans and Asians are appropriately represented on the county's payroll when compared to the MSA numbers, but Carnegie said Hispanics weren't. He said the county has 62 Hispanic employees and needs 40 more to bring Latinos to 5.5 percent of the work force, the number that matches their work force availability in the MSA.

"We have to pay very close attention to our EEO numbers," said Carnegie. "We have a ways to go. We still need to employ more Hispanic workers."

Carnegie said he would meet with Hispanic employees next week and then with Hispanic community leaders to gain some insight into how the county could attract more Hispanic workers. The racial distribution of the county's work force has remained stable the past four years.

Commissioners Nadine Klein and David Morren were impressed with the county's EEO effort and results. The effort includes producing cultural awareness posters that are hung in each department "to raise awareness and foster respect" for the multiple races and cultures the county serves each day.

"I'm most proud that we don't have somebody telling us to do it. We just do it," said Morren.

As for gender, 52 percent of all county workers are females. The MSA lists females as comprising 47 percent of the labor force.

"I'm glad the county will continue to report on its hiring practices. I'm proud of that," said Commissioner Paul Mayhue. "We need to make this a culturally diverse county."    

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