Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Firefighter Hiring Revised Delaney's Plan Raises Standards

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Firefighter Hiring Revised Delaney's Plan Raises Standards

Article excerpt

After six months of flux, Mayor John Delaney announced a new plan yesterday to change the way Jacksonville hires its firefighters while retaining the city's emphasis on finding more qualified women and minority candidates for the historically white male department.

The new approach, which Delaney said the city needed because he was "sick of getting sued," is designed to eliminate the randomness inherent in the old plan, supporters said.

It does away with computer-generated lists of candidates, which formerly determined who would get interviewed first, and raises standards by requiring more screening tests of all applicants. Those who survive the nine screens -- for areas such as state certification, physical agility and criminal history -- then come in for an oral review, which winnows the group even further. People who survive that go on a list with those deemed best put first.

But, because Fire Chief Ray Alfred can still pick and choose candidates from that list based on certain subjective factors -- such as whether an applicant "demonstrated initiative by overcoming barriers" -- critics of the department's hiring policies are not likely to be swayed.

"If there's any room for subjectivity in it, I'm personally not going to be happy with it," said Councilman John Crescimbeni, who advocates a more strictly test-score based approach to hiring.

Crescimbeni's interest in the department's hiring policies pre-dates Delaney's 1995 hiring of Alfred, the city's first black fire chief, but it has picked up since last fall, when six white men claimed reverse discrimination prevented their hiring. No lawsuit has been filed yet -- negotiations with the city continue -- but the department has been sued and lost in other cases involving charges of traditional racial discrimination.

About 70 percent of the department's 1,000 employees are white males.

Crescimbeni has argued the department needs to develop a more uniform method for hiring firefighters, and he doesn't think Delaney's new approach is likely to improve things. …

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