A testy subject

First Posted: 1/22/2015

LIMA — “It’s a start.”

That is how Lima NAACP chapter president Ronald Fails described the civil service exam town hall meeting held Thursday at the Bradfield Center, bringing members of the public together with representatives from Lima’s City Council, the Civil Service Board and representation from the mayor’s office. This gathering was aimed to examine the disproportionately low number of minority civil employees, including police and fire officers and construction and maintenance workers.

The three members of the Civil Service Board highlighted that although Lima’s population is 26.5 percent African-American as of 2000, no civil service test has seen more than a 9 percent participation rate by that same demographic.

“We’ve tried other avenues to increase diversity, but the percentage of minorities taking the test has stayed the same,” board president Deb Vobbe said.

To address this issue, Mayor David Berger wrote a letter to City Council in December calling for an end to the current “rule of 10,” in which only 10 candidates could be considered per open position, calling instead for a pass/fail system in which all candidates who pass the test would be considered for an open position. According to city human resource director Vince Ozier, basing a candidate solely on a written test may not produce the best results.

“Written tests are not particularly good ways to choose candidates for positions,” he said. “So what the mayor is proposing gives us the opportunity to further assess candidates relative to their ability to perform the job.”

Human Resource Committee chairman Jesse Lowe II disagreed, arguing that the issue is not one of evaluation, but one of participation.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to getting out and applying for the jobs,” he said. “It’s time for us to step up, quit putting the blame on everybody else and do what we need to do as a people.”

Vobbe agreed, pointing to efforts to encourage minority application with few results.

“As [Lima Fire Department inspector Chris Jackson] said, over the years, they’ve run mock exams and tutoring sessions and they’ve gone out and picked people up,” she said. “They’d have maybe 25 people they’d be working with and on test day, five would show up.”

Vobbe emphasized that the board remains committed to encouraging more minority employment in the city within the current evaluation system.

“There is going to be no one solution,” she said.

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