The local NAACP chapter has asked that Ventura County hire and promote more black firefighters, complaining that there are only six blacks among the 370-member staff.
In a report sent to the Board of Supervisors last week, the NAACP requested that the county develop a timely plan to place at least one black firefighter in each of the county's 29 fire stations.
"They keep saying, 'We're trying,' but the numbers never change. It's always put on the back burner, and it leads to a blatant form of discrimination," said John R. Hatcher III, president of the Ventura County chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.
Maria Diaz, the county's affirmative action officer, said Tuesday that Hatcher has "a valid point." Referring to the ratio of black firefighters, she continued: "That's not a good percentage, and we need to make a real push to get them hired and promoted up the ranks."
In addition to the six blacks, there are 33 Latinos and six women firefighters.
This is not the first time that the county's level of affirmative action has been criticized.
Last year, the Affirmative Action Advisory Committee, a watchdog group, complained in a report to the Board of Supervisors about the lack of progress in hiring minorities to head agencies or departments. The committee urged the county to allocate money for job training and aggressive recruitment of minorities, but a lack of funds has prevented this, county officials say.
Diaz said she faces several problems in attempting to recruit and hire minorities and women for the county Fire Department.
There is no minority-recruitment program or full-time recruiter to carry out such a plan, Diaz said. At the same time, the county receives few applications from minority candidates for firefighting jobs, she said.
Variety of Tests
Applicants must pass a variety of written and physical-fitness tests. They earn beginning salaries of $2,055 to $2,268 per month, a county personnel spokeswoman said.
Diaz said the county personnel department, which administers the affirmative action program, is working to accumulate lists of potential minority candidates. She said she plans also to meet with Hatcher to establish goals and objectives and develop a time frame for hiring black firefighters.
Launched seven years ago, the county's affirmative action office consists solely of Diaz. She works with the personnel office to recruit at local job fairs, advertise available positions to minorities and investigate the 10 or so discrimination complaints filed each year.
"It limits you," Diaz said of the lack of staff. "You can only do so much."