AUBURN — A Cayuga County Legislature committee Tuesday passed a resolution meant to increase the number of minority applicants to county jobs after some debate, with one legislator suggesting a lack of effort from applicants was the reason behind a lack of diversity.
The resolution, introduced to the Legislature's Government Operations committee by Legislator Ryan Foley, D-Auburn, directed the county's Human Resources Department and Civil Service Commission to explore ways to increase diversity among applicant pools, including through maximizing exposure of available opportunities among minority communities.
According to Foley, the resolution was the result of a collaboration with human resources and community members, and was intended to increase awareness among local minority communities about opportunities they might otherwise be unaware of.
During the committee's discussion, Legislator Michael Didio, R-Auburn, said he felt the resolution would not actually make a difference in getting minorities into applying for county positions.
Didio said it's already well-stated what positions are available within the county, and that low numbers of minority applicants or applicants in general was the result of a lack of effort.
Foley then asked Didio to clarify if it was his position that the county has a lack of applications for civil service positions "from minority groups because they don't have any effort in that process, or they lack effort in that process."
"Yes," Didio said.
According to Foley, part of the impetus for the resolution came after speaking with multiple community organizations, primarily made of minority groups, who said they were sometimes left off of things like email lists from Human Resources regarding job openings or Civil Service exam schedules.
The resolution passed 3-2, along party lines, with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans against. Committee Chairman Joseph DeForest, D-Venice and Legislator Patrick Mahunik, I-Auburn, were excused absent.
Before the vote was taken, Legislator Andrew Dennison, R-Ira, said he understood Foley's reasoning, but said he took issue with the idea of moving away from hiring anyone but the most qualified person for a job, regardless of skin color or gender or other factor.
Dennison said he would understand the concern if the county had a higher population of minority groups, but given the county's predominantly white population — 92.2% according to 2018 U.S. Census Bureau estimates — it only made sense.
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"If what your objective here is to pat ourselves on the back and say 'look, we've hired more minority people,' but they're not qualified, I'm not OK with that," Dennison said.
Committee Vice Chair Aileen McNabb-Coleman. D-Sennett, reiterated Foley's point about some community groups not being included, and said it was important to be able to get the word out, partly by "meeting people where they are."
Speaking with The Citizen on Wednesday, recently-hired Human Resources Administrator Lisa Lippoldt said she had already started exploring ways to increase outreach as a part of getting acclimated into the position.
In some instances, she said, it could be as easy as obtaining new contacts for community groups to replace outdated emails. In other cases, it might mean educating people that they perhaps qualify for exams or positions they do not expect to meet the prerequisites for, Lippoldt said.
This kind of work would not require any increase in expenditures from the department, she said.
Gwen Webber-McLeod is Didio's Democratic opponent in the election for the District 10 Legislature seat this year, and was present at Tuesday's meeting. If elected, Webber-McLeod would be the first black woman elected to the Legislature.
A former president of the Auburn/Cayuga NAACP, Webber-McLeod said she works professionally with companies looking to increase diversity, with one of the primary reasons being that such an increase can bring valuable new perspectives that would an enterprise would otherwise lack.
Webber-McLeod said that in working with such companies, the success of such initiatives falls on leadership.
"Until the county Legislature as an entity gets really clear about its own commitment to diversity and inclusion, they will find themselves having these conversations," Webber-McLeod said.
Didio said Thursday he did not want to comment much further until he received additional information he said other legislators said would be forthcoming.
However, Didio said he felt the resolution had been introduced with purely political motivations, and reiterated his opposition to it.