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City drops the ball on zero tolerance for racism, sexism

Discrimination complaints filed, then filed away under Mullen's watch



Colorado Springs city manager Jim Mullen this week scrambled to execute damage control over the revelation that he kept secret for more than a year the results of a study showing significant racism, sexism, ageism, classism and anti-gay sentiment among the city's 2,000-plus employees.

Mullen and his management team kept the contents of the taxpayer-subsidized $157,000 study secret -- even from City Council members -- despite the report's own recommendation to communicate openly with the public regarding the city's battle against discrimination.

The report was released to the media after the city's daily newspaper obtained a copy through an open-records request. On Monday, Mullen called a press conference where, flanked by employees in an apparent show of solidarity, the city manager said he is committed to stamping out discrimination.

However, according to figures obtained this week by the Independent, in the three years since Mullen has been the city manager, the number of discrimination complaints has risen.

In 1997, employees and managers filed four formal complaints alleging they were discriminated against on the basis of race, age or disability, city records show. That number rose to seven in 1998, and six complaints were filed last year. The majority of the complaints were allegations of race discrimination. Earlier this year, the director of the city's Equal Employment Opportunity office resigned, and accused management of racism and harassment.

"It's not inaccurate to say [discrimination] happens in this city -- it happens in a lot of large organizations," Mullen said. "That doesn't make it right."

During the press conference, Mullen claimed that the city has disciplined employees or managers who discriminate. As of press time, the city could not say how often, or what type of disciplinary action, has been enacted toward those who are knowingly involved in discriminatory practices.

In a written response to an open-records request, spokesperson Eugenia Echols said the city is "currently attempting to compile [that] information."

'Zero tolerance' violated

The report, compiled in February, 1999, by the New York-based Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group, suggests that every area of the city's much-touted Zero Tolerance policy is being violated.

The policy, which is required to be posted in every city department, stipulates "no person shall be discriminated against because of race, gender, color, national origin or ancestry, age, religious convictions, veteran status, disability, political beliefs, or other non job-related criteria."

The City Council unanimously adopted the resolution on May 13, 1997, shortly after Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace and several other new council members took office -- and shortly after bitter allegations of racism in city hall that resulted in the resignation of former City Manager Dick Zickefoose.

The resolution stipulates "that the City of Colorado Springs City Manager [and other council appointees] are hereby directed to enforce this Zero Tolerance policy, assuring the City's accomplishment of a work environment free of harassment and any form of discrimination toward any person."

Vice Mayor Leon Young, who is black, was then the most vocal critic over what he described as out-of-control racist attitudes, though he refused to identify specific incidences. During the latest episode, Young has remained noticeably silent. He did not attend Mullen's Monday press conference and did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Clichs and secrecy

Contrary to efforts to keep the Kaleel Jamison report from the public, the report recommends the city "develop and broadly communicate a clear and compelling" imperative for creating a more inclusive work environment.

To be successful, the study's authors asserted that "the plan must be both felt by employees and understood clearly by citizens."

On Monday, Mullen called the issue of battling discrimination in the city's ranks one of importance, "not subject to clichs."

"I'm looking forward to seeing positive resolutions continuing in these areas," he said of the city's efforts.

The city manager also complained that press reports have not featured any of the "positive" aspects of the Kaleel Jamison report.

However, other than some employees reporting they feel valued with the group they work with, and that some employees feel the City Council and city manager are "enjoying their best relationship in years," there is little in the report that could be construed as being "positive."

Instead, employees reported they are frustrated because the city "keeps sending consultants in to ask questions about what is wrong and what needs to be done."

"People feel they have outlined the problems but effective action does not get started," the authors of the report noted. "Some said they are tired of dropping information into 'the hole' with few if any results."

'Old boy network'

The report also found that:

Jokes and racist comments are fairly common throughout the organization and are generally unaddressed by people of color or white people. Stereotypes about various groups are unchallenged and widely held. There is fear of challenging unfair practices and concerns about retaliation if employees object to discriminatory treatment.

People of color are "over-represented" at lower levels of the organization and "under-represented" at upper levels.

Hispanics have low visibility, presence or influence within the City organization as a whole. There are few Hispanic role models in supervisory or management positions.

The City continues to be male dominated with men having the most influential positions in management especially in Fire, Police and upper levels of most departments.

If women assert themselves or question practices, they are accused of having "overactive hormones," while men can be assertive and taken seriously.

There is a lack of mentoring for women with few role models of women in supervisory or management positions. The "old boy" network is seen as alive and well making it difficult for women to move beyond the "glass ceiling."

There is a widespread lack of acceptance of gay and lesbian employees throughout the organization.

Openly hostile comments are made about gay people without repercussions.

Younger employees are seen as "kids" and are not taken as seriously as older workers.

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