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Springfield, Mass., City Council Passes Resolution To Diversify Cabinet

City Hall in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/21953562@N07
Springfield, Massachusetts, City Hall.

City councilors in Springfield late Monday night called for increasing diversity in Mayor Domenic Sarno's cabinet. Sarno has pushed back strongly.

The bulk of the city council meeting was spent talking about the city's top jobs, and who has the opportunity to get them.

The council first approved a contract with fire department district chiefs, that lets those currently living outside Springfield to avoid the residency requirement for city employees.

Council President Orlando Ramos later introduced a resolution focusing on diversity among department heads.

“The intention behind proposing this diversity resolution is to begin a dialogue and have a conversation about a very difficult subject,” Ramos said. “I know it’s an uncomfortable subject for some people.”

According to his resolution, people of color make up 61 percent of Springfield's population, but fewer than 20 percent of its department heads.

Ramos and eight councilors sent a letter about this Mayor Domenic Sarno last week. In response, Sarno said he hires people based on qualifications and said, “I don’t give a damn about skin color.”

But Councilor Adam Gomez said he's personally heard complaints from city employees about the issue.

“We have a lot of folks that work for us in these different departments that are very, very unhappy,” Gomez said. “If they do say something, there’s some consequences and repercussions, and that means employment to some of them.”

Abstaining from the vote, Councilor Thomas Ashe said he agrees with the goal of diversifying the upper ranks of Springfield's government. He's just not sure it's in the council's wheelhouse.

“We are in a strong mayor form of government, and so that’s very defined, and our role as city councilors is very defined, as well,” Ashe said. “It’s around land uses, approving the budget and all those things. So I think we’re overstepping our bounds when we get into that arena.”

But for Councilor Henry Twiggs, who was active in the civil rights movement, it all comes down to equal opportunity.

“An integrated city is a better city,” Twiggs said. “A city that looks out for all of its members equally is a better city.

The resolution passed with only a single no vote -- from Councilor Kateri Walsh. Council President Ramos said he intends on now meeting with human resources employees to discuss the city’s hiring process.

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