Last week, Councilpersons Levon Manzie, Fred Richardson and C.J. Small sent a letter to Mayor Sandy Stimpson expressing their “disdain and disappointment” in the lack of diversity in 28 officers who were recently promoted to various positions, including majors, captains, lieutenants, sergeants and corporals. The promotions were, in part, determined by a firm out of Colorado, Booth Research Group, hired at the hefty price of $500,000 to increase diversity. But only a third of the officers promoted were minorities.

“We were assured that by supporting the Booth contract we were implementing a process that would bridge the gap of ethnic disparity as it relates to hiring and promotions. In good faith despite grave concerns from our various constituencies, we stepped out to support you and Chief James Barber in this $500,000 initiative only to discover not only are we no better off, it appears that we are worse off,” the councilors wrote.

Barber fired back with a statement of equal disdain.

“I am as bewildered as I am dismayed at the comments of Councilman Richardson. It is the fundamental role of government to provide for the safety of the community. If we fail to do that, we fail as a government. The careful selection of the best candidates for promotion is paramount to the success of the organization. A great deal of time, cost and effort was placed into this process to ensure that we identify the best possible leadership team in the police department. These processes were conducted independent of the Office of the Chief and I am confident in their selection,” Barber said.

Barber told while the councilors were accurate in their numbers, the pool of minority officers available to promote was relatively small. Barber said there were more than 20 lieutenants tested for major and only two were minorities, adding you can’t take a patrol officer and just make him a captain.

Barber is proud of his department’s new selection process. There were other changes in it that allowed performance and experience to be considered, along with education. In previous years, a lot of weight was given to officers with a college degree – a change that would also seem to afford more opportunities to all officers.

“A diverse group of subject-matter experts were brought in from throughout the country to evaluate our personnel for promotion,” Barber told Lagniappe. “They took into consideration education, experience, training and practical exercise performance. The process identified, in rank order, the performance of each employee to identify the absolute best candidates for promotion. I am confident in the selection. As the chief of police, it is my fundamental responsibility to ensure the safety of our community. I will make no excuses or apologies for fielding the absolute best leadership team we can assemble to accomplish our mission to make the city of Mobile the safest city in America with respect for everyone.”

But Richardson and his fellow councilmen weren’t buying it, saying the new process is geared toward the exclusion of minorities, even though it should be noted former Prichard Police Chief Lawrence Battiste, an African-American, was just promoted to assistant chief.

“We know for a fact that there were several African-American candidates eminently qualified, through both experience and education, to serve in any of the leadership positions above the rank of captain. It appears that we have implemented a process that assures that the prolonged historical pattern of exclusion of minorities continues,” they wrote.

Stimpson’s Chief of Staff Colby Cooper responded to the councilmen on behalf of the administration, saying they felt the department was already “better off” than it was under former chief Michael Williams and the process of diversification would be ongoing.

“The Mayor and I are confident that Chief Barber and Assistant Chief Battiste (formerly Assistant Chief Kennedy) are transforming not only the way we police Mobile, but how we build sustainable and diverse ranks. To think this can all be done overnight is not realistic. To recognize that we are advancing the overall objectives through multiple cycles is completely realistic,” Cooper wrote.

I am certainly no expert on what the promotion practices in the Mobile Police Department — or any other department, for that matter — should be. And I really have no idea if this firm was worth the half a million dollars they were paid. I sure hope so. I am still waiting on Ann Street to be repaved.

But I do know, no matter what initiatives Stimpson and his administration put forward or personnel choices they make, Fred Richardson is going to oppose it and call it racist.

I mean, for goodness’ sake, he stopped just short of making the ridiculous squirrel ordinance a racial issue a couple of weeks ago.
And it’s sad because I don’t really think he believes that in his heart of hearts. If he does, then I think his version of reality is quite distorted and that’s even sadder.

But it’s just so insulting to accuse the chief of police, mayor or anybody, for that matter, of making decisions based on race. Are we supposed to believe they all colluded with this company in Colorado to act like they were diversifying the department, but really it was just a vast conspiracy to do anything but that? Come on.

I’m sure part of the reason this independent firm was brought in was to make sure there was no appearance of impropriety going on in the hiring process. And it cost us big and still couldn’t satisfy the good councilman.

Nothing does. And at this point, if something was truly being done that was actually designed to exclude minorities, how would you even know with Fred, because he says everything is. What is that thing about crying wolf?

Unfortunately, I believe Richardson’s very vocal opposition to everything the mayor proposes all boils down to politics and preparation for the next mayoral election, which is nothing new and probably to be expected. That’s just they way the game is played. But I just hate that he uses race to do it.

Attack the mayor’s initiatives on their merits if you just have to disagree with him on everything. But stop trying to put a giant wedge in our city for purely political purposes. It’s just so transparent and most of us just refuse to see our beautiful city in the black and white you try to paint it in anyway.