Does the city of Dearborn discriminate in its hiring practices for city, police and fire staff?
The Michigan-based Congress of Arab American Organizations of Michigan thinks it might, and has launched what they say is an investigation aimed at finding out the truth.
The CAAO–along with member organization the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Arab American Political Action Committee–announced recently that it is gathering testimony from community members wishing to talk about their interviewing or hiring experience with the City of Dearborn.
Dearborn attorney and CAAO member Tarek Baydoun explained that the decision to investigate came about after several people made complaints.
“Several community members have come forward that they were discriminated against in the hiring process,” Baydoun said. “They happened to be Arab Americans. The AAPAC made a decision that it was going to ask the community for complaints.”
Baydoun added that they have received several responses so far. The issue, in the opinion of the CAAO, does not just center around Arab Americans, but the fact that the city “has not made it a priority” to hire residents for city jobs–especially in the police and fire departments.
That begs the question, Baydoun said, of whether the people serving the city are the most qualified candidates on paper, versus the best people to have on the streets who understand the issues and the people of Dearborn, as well as the languages residents speak.
“You want officers to live amongst you. You want jobs for people that live in your city,” Baydoun explained. “God forbid there’s an emergency–they’re there and hopefully they speak the language of the people.”
Mary Laundroche, the director of the city’s Department of Public Information, said that the city is willing to listen to such issues and discuss how to address them. But as of June 17, she said no one at the city had been contacted–either by a group or an individual.
“There’s been no official claim or attempt to contact the city,” Laundroche said. “The mayor has said we’ll be happy to sit down and meet with them and review any materials or claims they have and … seek a resolution.”
Laundroche added that individuals who believe they were not treated fairly in the hiring process are always welcome to take their complaint to the Civil Service Commission for appeal.
She added that to her knowledge, no one had ever done so in the history of the commission.
Mayor Jack O’Reilly requested an independent review of the city’s Human Resources Department several years ago. The report turned in by Plante Moran in Feb. 2011, Laundroche said, “gave no indication of any hiring discrimination.”
Baydoun said that the CAAO, which recently formed a committee specifically to look into the issue of City of Dearborn hiring practices, has not yet drawn any conclusions, nor have they determined how the issue of discrimination–if any is found–should be handled.
“The intent is to gather the facts; whether it’s discrimination or not remains to be seen,” he said. “Once we have the data, the next question is, what does the data show? Then … how do we solve it?”
Regardless, Baydoun said that AAPAC–among other organizations–has long held that the city should make a more concerted effort to recruit and hire residents.
“Its not an Arab issue; it’s a community service issue and a government issue,” he said. “How well can the government provide services to residents if it doesn’t understand the residents?”
Laundroche noted that the city has enacted some programs aimed at hiring residents, including a paid internship program for the and that specifically recruits local high school students.
“We have made strides with police and fire to have that outreach be more robust and hopefully have more local candidates,” she said. “We all want more local candidates who grew up in Dearborn and want to serve their community.”
However, Laundroche added, being local doesn't always make a candidate the best person for the job.
“While there is value in a city workforce reflecting the diversity of the community, our residents are best served when the most qualified people are working on their behalf,” she said. “I think a good goal is making sure local job-seekers have the opportunity to show they are the most qualified candidates.”