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Council to debate firefighter recruitment contract

Wednesday, April 7, 2010 by Austin Monitor

Hiring a racially diverse group of men and women into the ranks of Austin firefighters has proven a more difficult task than fighting fires and responding to other emergencies for the Austin Fire Department. So, when City Council approved a contract with Austin firefighters in December, one of the things the city won was the right to hire an outside consulting firm to assist the department with recruiting a more diverse group into its ranks.


City Manager Marc Ott told In Fact Daily the city needs to get some help in recruiting. “The idea of applying this strategy, getting this professional search firm’s support, was one that really came up during the negotiations. As I understand it, the union … visited some other places that have used this kind of method to aid their recruitment. They came back favorably persuaded.”


Management agreed.


On Thursday, Council members will have an opportunity to hire the firm staff has selected to carry out that task. Bernard Hodes Group of Charlotte, North Carolina, “will train AFD recruiters in the best recruiting practices, provide ongoing consulting services, develop marketing plans and data collection methods … designed to sustain an ongoing diversity recruiting effort by AFD,” according to the Purchasing Office recommendation.


The price tag on the contract is $280,000 for the first 18 months, with four possible one-year extensions at $125,000 per year for a total of $780,000 over five years.


Council Members Sheryl Cole and Laura Morrison both said they support awarding the contract.


Cole said, “AFD has a significant deficit of minority firefighters and we need to do something about it. The only issue is what does that cost. … We need to make sure before we exercise any extension that we are seeing tangible results in the recruiting of minorities. And so, I am considering simply changing the agenda item such that an extension of the contract must come before Council on an annual basis.”


Morrison told In Fact Daily, “I am going to support it and I think it’s a good step for the department.” After talking to Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr, Morrison said Austin is not keeping up with other cities in recruiting women as well as other minorities. “For us to make progress in diversity,” Morrison said, “we need a concerted fresh start,” with specialists who have such expertise.


She added, “In speaking with the city manager … he was going to expect some quick results and I think that’s great … I’m with them on that.”


But when he was asked about his position on the item, Mayor Lee Leffingwell said, “Right now I expect to vote against the item. I’m obviously in favor of achieving more diversity in the Fire Department, but I’m not prepared to support a $780,000 consulting contract without understanding exactly why it is that we can’t deploy internal resources to accomplish our recruiting goals.”

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