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Alhambra Hires Black Fire Chief in Face of Lawsuit


ALHAMBRA — Facing a pending federal suit accusing the city's fire and police departments of racial discrimination, City Manager Kevin Murphy on Monday hired a black fire chief.

Murphy and other city officials said race was not a factor in their decision to hire Evanston, Ill., Fire Chief Raymond Brooks. Brooks, who takes over April 29, will be the first black fire chief in Alhambra. He replaces Robert Tolladay, who was killed in a plane crash last year.

Brooks, 46, Evanston's chief since 1987, is "truly a leader, and he will be able to take our Fire Department into the next century," Murphy said. "He comes from departments that have large numbers of minorities and has demonstrated an ability to recruit effective minority members."

Murphy added that the city already has done a good job of hiring minority firefighters, and Brooks would enhance its affirmative action program. About 15% of its 75 firefighters are Latino. There are no blacks or Asians in the department. Last August, the U.S. Justice Department sued the city, accusing it of discriminating against minorities in hiring and promotion. The suit is pending.

Brooks will make $75,000 a year in Alhambra. He was Murphy's top choice out of a field of 43 candidates who applied for the job, including Alhambra's acting fire chief, Richard Ingram, and three battalion chiefs, Murphy said. The city used an executive recruiting firm to screen the candidates, the first time it has gone outside the Fire Department to look for a new chief.

His salary at the Alhambra department is the same as it was in the 108-firefighter Evanston job.

City officials in Evanston said they were happy with Brooks' performance.

He has, however, been involved in a series of controversies, most union-related, during his years in Evanston, according to newspaper accounts and interviews with firefighters.

Last June, Brooks initiated a departmentwide investigation into charges that paramedics had lied in order to be certified. In January, 42 paramedics were suspended and got pay cuts after the probe found they had falsified training forms documenting the hours they spent in a hospital. City officials called it the largest fraud case in Evanston in at least a decade. Union officials called the punishments excessive.

Jim Keaty, steward of Firefighters Local 742, characterized Brooks as an "anti-labor" administrator who has clashed with the rank and file on several matters.

"Brooks wants his way--basically, total control," Keaty said Tuesday. He cited Brooks' support for mandatory, random drug testing, strongly opposed by the union. The matter still is being negotiated between Evanston officials and the union, Brooks said.

Brooks said he supports random drug testing because "there is no room for drugs in the fire service," but hasn't decided whether he will propose such a policy in Alhambra. At present, only new firefighters must undergo drug testing.

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