The Tuscaloosa County Commission at their regular meeting Wednesday continued their conversation regarding updating hiring practices for county jobs to better improve diversity and minority representation.

District 4 Commissioner Reginald Murray spearheaded a special committee to look into unequal representation in county jobs, and advocated for a series of recommendations at their previous meeting that would help give job opportunities to minority populations.

Murray, as the only Black commissioner, emphasized the lack of minority representation within the county. Although Tuscaloosa County has a minority population of 30%, the only two county departments that consist of largely minorities include the County Maintenance Department and the Tuscaloosa County Jail.

The motion to accept the recommendations passed unanimously at the previous meeting.

"I know we adopted recommendations from the last committee meeting, and we have a lot of work to do," said District 3 Commissioner Mark Nelson at Wednesday's regular meeting. "I believe a lot of those things are going to be helpful."

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The 15 recommendations are as follows:

  1. Evaluate outdated job exams
  2. Update all exams and job descriptions
  3. Schedule appointments for applicants and prospective employees to take exams on county-provided computers
  4. Develop software to grade the tests objectively and fairly
  5. Upgrade the county's technology assets for testing
  6. Allow passing candidates the opportunity to retake their tests to earn a better score up to three times
  7. Outsource employee testing to remove perceived racial bias
  8. Provide candidates with email reminders for testing via a six-month file update
  9. Advertise job opportunities online and at various locations in the courthouse
  10. Add detailed job descriptions to the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse website, as well as United Way's website and other social media
  11. Provide management training to employees promoted to those positions
  12. Hire the best candidates for each job, while considering diversity in county departments
  13. Emphasizing "quality vs. quantity employment," to ensure more minority representation in leadership roles as opposed to filling several low-paying jobs with minority candidates
  14. Hire a Human Resources consultant
  15. Explore the possibility of transitioning the Civil Service Board to a Personnel Board

That final point was something brought up again at Wednesday's regular commission meeting. Murray pushed to move the Civil Service Board to a Personnel Board, one that is made up of individuals that would more equally represent the racial makeup of the county. Acker and Robertson both said that the civil service board can't be controlled or changed by the county commission. That change would be a decision at the state level.

"If the commission is in support of that concept, I believe the legislature will make that change," Murray said. "We have to start addressing those issues on a local level."

Murray attempted to make more headway on addressing the recommendations and taking action by motioning to have a separate work session starting next week where the commission could dedicate time to discussing the 15 points.

He specifically cited the 1974 NAACP lawsuit against Jefferson County that claimed discriminatory practices by multiple government employers in the area. The lawsuit stated that of the 1,000 employees in the police and fire departments in Birmingham, only one was a Black man. This was in a city where the minority population was equal to the white population.

"There was not a District 4 in Tuscaloosa county until black people raised the issue of representation. If we don’t make those changes ourselves, then at some point in time, the ability to make the change moves out of our hands," Murray said. "I think we need to understand one thing: doing it ourselves in the community is much better than being told or ordered by a judge to do something."

"I believe we’re all in agreement with what you said," Probate Judge Rob Robertson said. "There were injustices in the past, and we've got unprecedented opportunity in this community right now. We have about 3,500 jobs open. [The recommendations] aren't something that this commission can just do... The goal is that we keep everything fair, everyone has access to these opportunities. We very much value the employees of the county and we want to give them the opportunities."

District 3 Commissioner Mark Nelson agreed with Murray about the need for a work session, but suggested that they discuss how to proceed with any number of these recommendations as part of a larger work session.

"I understand accountability," he said. "You say something and you don't follow up... The follow up is where it always gets lost."

The Commission voted unanimously to discuss the new hiring practice recommendations as part of a larger work session sometime in December.

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