Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Reports Show Little Improvement Since 1996 In SEWRPC Minority Hiring

In the two-paragraph "overview" of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission's 1996-1997 Affirmative Action plan - - the first such plan that SEWRPC says it produced - - the agency twice uses the phrase "action-oriented program" to describe what it has in mind.

Using SEWRPC affirmative action reports and other documents, it would be hard after more than a decade to describe those efforts as "action-oriented," or successful.

SEWRPC divides its staff among three categories: professional, technical and clerical.

Bottom line:

Of 66 full-time positions at the agency, there is one African-American female in the clerical category, one Asian, Pacific Island male in the professional category, and one Hispanic male, one Hispanic female and one Hispanic female in the technical division.

Five of 66.

And though its seven-county territory includes heavy minority populations in the cities of Milwaukee and Racine, SEWRPC, year-in-and-year-out has hired consistently few minority employees, yet has reported few solutions to self-reported "problem areas," results from affirmative action plans or meeting trend-setting goals, according to a review of SEWRPC affirmative action plans dating to 1996.

These reports are not online.

SEWRPC was created by state statute in 1960, and is comprised of Milwaukee, Waukesha, Washington, Ozaukee, Walworth, Racine and Kenosha Counties.

Additionally, there are identical or nearly identical sections and language in both the 1996-1997 document and the current, 2007-2008 plan (the 2008-2009 report is not yet available).

This suggests that the reports, with hiring data changes and other tweaks added annually, appear to be produced from templates and texts from previous years' reports, and are not dynamic annual action plans looking forward to bold goals, or reacting to poor minority hiring records with innovative solutions.

The 1996-1997 plan's Equal Employment Opportunity Policy statement was signed by then-director Kurt Bauer, the agency's first lead manager.

The 2007-2008 statement was signed by Philip Evenson, Bauer's replacement and only the agency's second executive director.

Bauer is still employed by SEWRPC as a three-quarters' time consultant as executive director emeritus, records show.

SEWRPC is headquartered in the City of Pewaukee, in Western Waukesha County.

The 1996-1997 report indicates that among its 41 professional staffers - - civil engineers, surveyors, architects, planners and other relatively specialized jobs - - there was one minority, an Asian, Pacific Islander female.

One minority of 41 professionals.

Eleven years later, the 2007-2008 report indicates that of 42 professional staffers, there was still but one minority, an Asian, Pacific Islander male.

One minority of 42 professionals - - keeping the minority statistic in the professional ranks at a steady 2%, a percentage that is insignificant, but yet manages at two to bizarrely double the actual, even more paltry raw number of one.

The 1996-1997 report shows no minority members on a 10-person clerical staff; in 2007-2008, there was a slight improvement. One minority staffer had been hired, an African-American female, among eight clerical employees.

In the technical category - - comprising draftsmen, research aides, office equipment operators and others - - this was the breakdown:

In 1996-1997, there were four minorities - - two African-American males and two American Indian females - - on a 46-member technical staff.

In 2007-2008, on a smaller, 30-person technical staff, the report says there were seven minority staffers - - at first glance suggesting a significant percentage and raw number increase in minority hiring.

But wait: Those numbers do not tell the complete story, because the reports do not differentiate between full-time and part-time employees.

In response to a follow-up question, SEWRPC indicated of the seven minority technical staffers in the 2007-2008 report, four were part-time, and only three were full-time - - one Hispanic male, one Hispanic female and one American Indian female.

None of the technical staff minorities in full-time positions were African-American, though the four minority part-time technical staffer were all African-American, SEWRPC says.

Therefore, of 66 full-time employees at SEWRPC in the 2007-2008 affirmative action report, there are actually just five minority employees at the agency - - the aforementioned, three technical staffers, the one professionals and the one clerical employee, the sole SEWRPC African-American fullitime SEWRPC staffer - - for an agency-wide, minority full-time staff level of 7.5%.

You can decide if that is an Affirmative Action success for a public agency in the greater Milwaukee area. My conclusion is at the end.

Other interesting similarities between the current year report and the first one dating back to 1996-1997:

Both contain nearly identical lists of about three dozen media, educational and community organizations to which SEWRPC says it sends job notices as part of its minority outreach action.

The only difference is that Milwaukee central city radio station WNOV was dropped from the list after the 2006-2007 report, records show.

A minority summer internship program is referenced in the 2007-2008 report as one way SEWRPC can help place minority planning and engineering students at the agency.

But the report does not repeat earlier references to a proposed public-partnership, and steering committee, to create up to 50 additional intern positions "if at least ten organizations participated," according to reports from 2001-2002 through 2005-2006.

All the SEWRPC annual affirmative action reports beginning with the 1996-1997 document cite transit deficiencies as a real or potential barrier to minority employee hiring at the agency.

Yet citing problems with parking that were affecting staff recruiting, SEWRPC purchased office space farther west from its former downtown Waukesha headquarters- - where there were some transit connections- - to the more distant Pewaukee office park location that is not on a bus line.
It made the relocation even though SEWRPC acknowledged in its 1996-1997 affirmative action report's "problem areas" section that "the time and expense of commuting to downtown Waukesha is a major disincentive to potential job applicants from Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha Counties..."

But parking problems was an issue that SEWRPC affirmatively resolved with its move from downtown Waukesha to the smaller, more isolated and whiter City of Pewaukee.

The documentation: SEWRPC's Executive Committee minutes from 2/24/00, pps. 3-4, (not online), where the committee endorsed the making of an offer to purchase the Pewaukee office building:

"The discussion also included concerns about the existing Commission offices [in the Waukesha County Historical Society], including lack of parking and the inefficient layout of the current quarters, with a special concern being expressed on the probable detrimental effect on staff recruitment.".

But the resulting relocation by SEWRPC to Pewaukee made the transit disconnect and commuting distance even worse for the agency's Milwaukee, Kenosha and Racine employees and applicants.

That lack of transit service and farther location to the west was not a sufficient reason for SEWRPC to either remain in downtown Waukesha, or to find new offices, if they they were truly needed, that were closer to the region's urban core.

So here we are in 2008, with SEWRPC, a 100% taxpayer-financed public agency that provides transportation, housing, water supply, land-use and other crucial planning services to that part of Wisconsin with the largest number of minorities - - but it can't do better than finding one minority professional for its full-time staff of 66, and has but four other full-time minority employees.

If you keep urban people off the payroll, and certainly off the all-white senior staff that SEWRPC also acknowledged did not have a single City of Milwaukee resident, it should come as no surprise that SEWRPC has been following a pro-suburban, highway-building policy agenda, too.

I've been arguing on this blog and in Milwaukee newspaper op-eds and one in Waukessha, too, that SEWRPC is a bad deal for Milwaukee, a city that sent SEWRPC $400,000 in operating money this year, has no representative on the SEWRPC 21-member governing board, and whose minority residents can barely break the color barriers on the SEWRPC staff.

I believe Milwaukee needs to withdraw from SEWRPC and either create a new, urban-focused planning commission in the region with other cities, or handle its share of the region's planning tasks in house, with its planning, transportation, public works and housing staffs.

After reading through the agency's Affirmative Action reports, and seeing little that has been successfully affirmative, or action-oriented, I renew my argument here, and rest my case.

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