When: Lancaster City Council meeting, held virtually, June 8.
What happened: Council again tabled a proposal to remove seniority points from the promotion process in the city’s police and fire bureaus after spending 1 hour and 20 minutes discussing and hearing comment on the issue that returns to council in August. A vote was originally slated for May 25.
Background: Mayor Danene Sorace and the city’s fire chief and interim police chief spoke at past meetings in favor of removing the seniority points. Leaders of the fire and police unions argued against it.
Administration’s case: Jess King, Sorace’s chief of staff, this time spoke in lieu of the mayor who was attending McCaskey High School’s graduation. “We’re here proposing this change because of the challenges made by council and members of the public in response to the death of George Floyd more than a year ago,” King said. “The mayor made commitments to advance racial equity in the police bureau and in all departments across the city.” King said the senior ranks of both bureaus “tend to lack” diversity of race and gender. “The awarding of seniority points negatively impacts persons of color and other underrepresented individuals in the promotional process by increasing the chances that more senior, non-minority candidates receive a higher cumulative score,” King said.
Department stats: Nineteen of the 139 active employees of the city’s police bureau and 15 of the fire bureau’s 68 active employees are Black, Hispanic or Asian, said Sharon Allen-Span, the city’s leadership, development and diversity manager. Between 2007 and 2016, the city did not hire and retain any police officers of color, she said. “If you think about that window of time from 2007 and 2016, we won’t even have officers who are eligible to be promoted,” Allen-Span said.
Council concerns: Several members of council questioned removing seniority points and floated suggestions including a more extensive point system revamp. Council member Janet Diaz suggested removing seniority points for police but not firefighters. “That I know of right now, we have three Latinos that have been in the fire department for I think … six, 15 and (possibly) 20 years,” Diaz said. “They qualify. They are taking the exam. And by taking this away you’re eliminating possibly one or two of those Latinos that … have impeccable backgrounds and this is just going to hinder them … We need to make sure that we continue protecting those that are minorities if we’re going to be talking about diversity.”
On tabling: Pete Soto was one of three council members who voted against tabling the proposal. “What I’m hearing is we’re ready for a change ... It’s either vote it up or vote it down.” Other council members wanted to bring the issue back in August, including Jamie Arroyo who said perhaps the point system needs a larger overhaul. “If we are going to be looking … at systemic change, I do think it takes a strategic lens to make sure that we’re doing this in the right way for the next 10, 15, 20 years rather than revisiting these single metrics time and time again, piece by piece,” Arroyo said.
In other business: Council approved a sewer plan for Willow Valley Mosaic — a high-rise senior condo project that some community members spoke against at this meeting. Council also approved a resolution recognizing June 19 as Juneteenth in the city.