One of Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s appointments may hit a bump in the road due to a lawsuit he filed against the city more than five years ago.
After Stephen Dean retired as fire chief, Stimpson appointed Paul “Randy” Smith to take Dean’s place. The appointment is one that will require the approval of the council.
Since Stimpson’s announcement of Smith as fire chief, a 2006 lawsuit the firefighter filed against the city has come back to light.
The lawsuit, which was settled, claimed the city was discriminating against white employees within the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department at the urging of then-Mayor Sam Jones and Dean.
As a result, the city settled and gave Smith the position of deputy chief and a lump sum of $80,000, which partly went to pay for his attorney fees.
In the complaint, Smith and co-plaintiff William Glisson said the city knowingly tried to keep either from ascending the ranks when two deputy chief positions came open.
Before promotions at the MFRD, every person who is eligible for the position is given a test. The people who take the test are then ranked by how well they performed. The position is to be filled according to the test results. In the case of Smith and Glisson, this didn’t happen.
“Each plaintiff applied for the promotion and, after taking the requisite job-related test, the applicants were ranked in descending order of qualification by the Personnel Board. Smith and Glisson were ranked first and second respectively. In spite of plaintiffs being declared the two most qualified applicants by the Personnel Board, the newly created position was awarded to Mark A. Hansberry, a 41-year-old African-American who was ranked lower (third) on the list. The other position was awarded to Richard F. Brannon who is 48 years old and who was ranked fourth,” the complaint read. “Defendants (the city of Mobile, Dean, Jones and the Personnel Board) have also employed and applied the city’s personnel policies in a racially discriminatory manner.
“African-American employees are treated more favorably than Caucasians and have been shown leniency in situations, which, under the Department’s policies, called for severe punishment.”
During the lawsuit, Councilman Fred Richardson was subpoenaed to testify. In the complaint, Smith and Glisson alleged “Mayor Jones’ predecessor (Mike Dow) and certain City Council members have exerted pressure on Dean to promote minority candidates regardless of their qualifications based on their race or sex. Such actions by the council members violate state law, and promoting on the basis of an applicants race violates the city’s own Affirmative Action Policy.”
The lawsuit never names the “certain City Council members.”
However, Richardson said he and then-councilman Clinton Johnson were called to testify.
“I was asked if I had played any role in minorities and women in the fire department being promoted by speaking to the fire chief about having any sort of upward mobility for minorities and women,” he said. “My answer was yes. I made it known to the department that I would like to see upward movement for women and minorities because I thought there were not very many who had been promoted.”
Richardson took umbrage with Smith and Glisson’s claim that they were skipped over. He said Hansberry was a nurse at the time of the promotions so he was actually more qualified than Smith and Glisson.
“(Hansberry) could do more for the department,” Richardson said. “The list of people for that promotion were all qualified. Also, there have been cases where minority candidates were skipped over for others and there wasn’t a word said about that.”
Richardson said the 2006 lawsuit would not affect his vote for Smith to become fire chief.
The lawsuit didn’t deter Stimpson from selecting Smith as fire chief.
“I have read the lawsuit and discussed it with Chief Smith. I have complete confidence in him as the right person to lead our Mobile Fire-Rescue Department and perform this important job for the citizens of Mobile,” he said.
Diversity also came up more recently than 2006. During the Nov. 11 City Council meeting, Richardson noted the top-ranking officers present at the council meeting for Police Chief Jim Barber’s swearing in was lacking in something.
“Looking out today I see a lot of brass, but I don’t see a lot of diversity,” he said. “I would like that to change.”
Councilman John Williams retorted saying there is no evidence of discrimination.
“If anyone feels there is discrimination in the city in any capacity, I want them to know they should tell me. I will be there on their side when they file the lawsuit, but currently there is no evidence of discrimination by any classification in the city,” he said.
Councilmen Levon Manzie and CJ Small disagreed saying they both have had people reporting discrimination within the city government.
“To talk as if discrimination is not prevalent is unrealistic,” Manzie said. “I don’t want people to be under the impression it is not happening.”