Will Elgin pursue its own diversity goals for high-level jobs?

Two high-level administrative jobs in Elgin are either vacant or soon will be, and it's unclear whether the city intends to pursue its own diversity goals by ensuring women and minorities have a chance to apply.

The city is working on a diversity hiring plan with the help of a $30,000-per-year consultant. It would call for a search for applicants for full-time, nonunion positions - unless otherwise decided by the city manager, Human Resources Director Gail Cohen said.

The assistant city manager's post became vacant when Rick Kozal was promoted to city manager Aug. 1. Assistant Fire Chief Dave Schmidt began serving as interim fire chief last week in the wake of John Fahy's retirement, which will be effective Oct. 10.

Kozal, who as city manager makes all hiring decisions, emailed the Daily Herald a statement that did not address diversity.

Of 22 top-level managers in Elgin, 21 are white, and one is black, according to city data. Four are women, 18 are men.

Overall, 76 percent of nearly 800 city employees are white. Elgin's residents are about 44 percent Latino, 7 percent black and 5 percent Asian.

Assistant city manager

Diversity consultant Phil Reed said Kozal told him several weeks ago he intended to conduct a search for an assistant city manager. But in more recent days, council members said, Kozal told them he's looking at possibly retooling the role before deciding how to proceed.

Kozal told the Daily Herald he is analyzing the city's staffing needs in conjunction with 2017 budget deliberations.

"In the recent past, vacancies created in assistant positions in the finance, community development, public works, corporation counsel and parks and recreation departments have remain unfilled," he wrote. "There is no reason the vacated assistant city manager position should be exempt from similar scrutiny as it relates to greater organizational needs."

The city council was criticized by some in the community for appointing Kozal without conducting a search for applicants. At the time, several council members, including Carol Rauschenberger and Rose Martinez, said they'd like the city to conduct a national search for the assistant's position.

Mayor David Kaptain and Councilwoman Tish Powell said they, too, would want that.

"It's the city manager's decision," Kaptain said. "I think he feels he can cover what he needs to, for a while."

Powell, who objected to hiring Kozal without a search for candidates, said fostering diversity means hiring more women and minorities across the board, including Latinos, Asians and African-Americans.

Casting a wide net doesn't preclude internal candidates from applying and being promoted, she pointed out. "At the end of the day, the best person for the job will rise to the top."

But looking for outside candidates can lead to losing valuable employees who might leave if someone else is hired, or might not even stick around long enough for a decision, Councilman Terry Gavin said. He was among three council members who voted against hiring the diversity consultant.

Next in rank in the city's administration department are senior management analysts Aaron Cosentino, Laura Valdez-Wilson and Dan Ault. All are "extremely talented" but "kind of young," Kaptain said.

However, former City Manager Sean Stegall was 28 when he was hired as assistant city manager in 2000.

Fire chief

Elgin has two assistant fire chiefs, Dave Schmidt - now interim chief - and Bryan McMahan.

Kozal praised Schmidt in his statement and said he has not had the opportunity to meet "at length" with Schmidt since he took the interim post Thursday. He did not mention McMahan.

Powell said the city should follow its diversity hiring process for all positions, but Kaptain was less committal about the fire chief's post.

Hiring from within would ensure more longevity, Kaptain said. "Let's say we get an African-American from Chicago to fill the job as fire chief with 20-plus years of experience," he said. "Probably, he'll be here three to four years."

Fahy served as chief for 5½ years and an overall 29 years in Elgin. McMahan and Schmidt both were hired 27 years ago.

The fire department is unique because firefighters work and even live together as a team, Gavin said. "You need firefighters who rose through the ranks and learned the Elgin way," he said.

Hiring from within normally is a sound choice, but not if a city is lacking diversity and is trying to address the problem, Powell said.

Kaptain said it's important to build diversity from the ground up, but Powell said that alone isn't enough - diverse hiring practices should happen at all levels of the ladder, she said.

Elgin renews diversity contract

Elgin Fire Chief John Fahy's retirement takes effect in October. City council members have different opinions about whether his successor should come from within the department or if outside, and potentially diverse, candidates should be sought.
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