Shades of Government: New Demographics Add Opportunities for African Americans

Article excerpt

Sylvester Murray, director of the Public Management Institute at Cleveland State University, became prominent in the early 1980s as chief executive officer of one of the best-run cities in America. As the first Black city manager of Cincinnati, Ohio and before leaving to become city manager of San Diego, California, Murray was elected president of the American Society for Public Administration and the International City Management Association.

Today, at 55, he devotes much of his time to training others to be city managers. He is particularly interested in preparing African-American students for careers in government.

The market for African Americans in government and public administration is expanding, according to Mitchell F. Rice, a professor at Texas A & M University and a member of the national board of the Conference of Minority Public Administrators (COMPA). "As cities become increasingly Black, the administration of those cities becomes increasingly Black," Rice says.

Based on research on the subject, Rice says public employment has historically been one of the best areas for African Americans in gaining employment and in dealing with discrimination. It is a strong area for Blacks, he says, because of the government's responsibility to be fair in its employment decisions. For example, Rice points out that according to federal employment cumulative data Blacks make up about 10 percent of federal workers. However, the percentage drops significantly for higher rank positions beyond Government Service grades 12 and 13.

A career in government and public administration is possible for people with backgrounds in public management, like Murray, or others with backgrounds in law, engineering, medicine and teaching. But a master's degree in public administration and/or policy stands out above all others as the recognized standard for entry-level jobs in governmental management. For those already working in government it is the best means to job promotion.

Be specific about goals

Professor Audrey Mathews of California State University-San Bernadino and a past COMPA president is not as optimistic as Rice. Mathews says that nationally the growing conservatism in the American political landscape has made careers in government and public administration tougher for minorities to enter. She says this is especially true for Blacks. However, she says some of the difficulty can be overcome if students concentrate on the high demand areas of public finance and human resource management.

"The days of the generalists are over. You really have to be specific about your interests and gain experience in that area to be a manager these days," she advises. She suggests, for instance, that public finance should be narrowed down to a more specific area of interest such as transportation finance, local government finance or defense department finance.

Murray, who studied American history at Lincoln University in Philadelphia, acquired a Master of Government Administration degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1967. His first job out of graduate school was that of administrative assistant to the city manager of Daytona Beach, Florida. After a year he was promoted to director of city planning and building inspections. After three years he left Daytona Beach to take the job of assistant city manager in Richland, Washington where he remained for two years.

He first realized his dream of being a city manager in 1972 when he assumed that position with the City of Inkster, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. Three years later he held the same position with the City of Ann Arbor. In 1981, Murray became city manager of Cincinnati, a position which helped catapult him to one of the most prominent figures in American public administration.

He says that when he started his career, a private sector alternative was not an option because there were limited opportunities for Blacks. …