By NEMS Daily Journal
Tupelo’s municipal hiring came in for another round of criticism from several African-American citizens at the Jan. 5 City Council meeting, with speakers telling the council and Mayor Jack Reed, Jr., the city must do better, especially in hiring minorities for department head jobs and similar positions of responsibility.
The speakers expressed confidence generally in Reed’s intent to increase minority hiring, but they also criticized his naming of department heads since his term began in July 2009, most of them white. The appointments included making two interim position-holders permanent and the hiring of Tony Carleton, who is white, as police chief, a nomination that unanimously passed the council’s confirmation vote. Two council members, Nettie Davis of Ward 4 and Willie Jennings of Ward 7, are black.
Tupelo, in the long view, arguably has been less than diligent in bringing blacks into the municipal workforce and, until recent years, in appointing minorities to the citizen-led committees and boards.
We believe Reed, whose long personal record of outspoken advocacy for equal rights and fairness is generally acknowledged and widely known, is uniquely positioned to bring qualified minority applicants into the review and hiring process.
We also believe the issue of the percentage of minorities in the total city work force points to a root problem, which is the education gap between Tupelo’s black and white citizens. That problem requires equal focus and fervor, and it’s a broad community responsibility – not just the city government’s or the school system’s.
Inadequate educational attainment is the dream-breaker for too many prospective city employees – and for job seekers in the work force generally across Northeast Mississippi.
The city requires a high school diploma for employment, and the U.S. Census statistics show where the city’s African-American population, ages 25 and older, is at a distinct disadvantage and risk: The high school graduation rate among blacks in the latest census estimate is 64.49 percent, and for whites in the same category it is 86.57 percent. The percentage of minorities employed in city government – 18.6 percent – is essentially the same as the 19 percent of Tupelo’s population that are minorities who graduated from high school.
Closing the graduation gap will go a long way toward resolving hiring issues because lack of sufficient educational attainment is the spoiler in employability regionwide for all races.
In addition, the city has started its own classes to better prepare prospective job applicants for the tests and process of getting hired.
We believe Reed and the City Council are exceptionally sensitized not only to minority hiring, but greater prosperity generally for all Tupelo citizens.
The situation addressed Jan. 5 is a challenge, but it is even more an opportunity for significant progress through full cooperation and mutual trust.