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Davis calls for more minority hiring

December 29, 1997

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

Washington County needs to do a better job recruiting, hiring and retaining blacks and other minorities, especially in professional positions and in the Sheriff's Department, county Human Resources Director Alan J. Davis said Monday.

"There are a number of areas that we're lacking in, especially technical and professional positions," Davis said.

He said turnover is low for those types of jobs, however.

Davis said of the county's 630 employees, 22 are minorities, including 14 blacks.

Davis said the 3.5 percent minority employee ratio is about the same as the county's minority population, which is about 3.5 percent if prison inmates are excluded.

The Sheriff's Department, with a 200-member work force, has one minority employee, a Hispanic.

"We absolutely would like to see more minorities represented in public safety," Davis said.

Sheriff Charles F. Mades said he has hired blacks in the past, and would like to hire more minorities, but has difficulty finding qualified minority applicants.

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"If they are as qualified as anybody they can get the job," Mades said.

The issue of minority hiring surfaced after Lawrence H. Freeman was frisked, handcuffed and charged with trespassing in a public agency during business hours outside the Washington County Administration Building on Dec. 23.

When arrested, Freeman was holding up a sign that said "Washington County Commissioners won't hire black men."

Freeman, 53, of Hagerstown, said he had been turned down for three county jobs because he's black.

Davis said the county needs to revamp its affirmative action program, which sets goals for minority hiring.

But Davis said the county won't lower standards for the purpose of hiring minorities.

"Our goal will always be to hire the most qualified person for the job," Davis said.

"Maybe we need to spend more time on minority recruitment than hiring relatives and friends and neighbors," County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers said.

Two relatives of Davis - his sister and his brother-in-law - are employed by the county despite a policy, which Davis helped to write, that discourages the hiring of relatives.

Bowers said the county's affirmative action plan hasn't been kept up to date and said that's Davis' responsibility.

Bowers said the county might need to make some changes if it is to improve its minority hiring record.

"I'm not sure with existing personnel at the top positions that there is a lot that can be done," he said.

"The county should lead by example and we're not," he said.

Bowers said Freeman's arrest was "totally uncalled for."

"I sure didn't like the idea of him being arrested," County Commissioner John S. Shank said of Freeman. "...I can understand his frustration and confusion for not being hired, but there again, we didn't even know he'd applied ... We were getting accused of something that we weren't aware of."

Commissioner R. Lee Downey said the arrest "might have been a little marginal, but I wasn't right there and didn't have to make the decision."

Downey said he was comfortable with the county's minority hiring.

Shank said the commissioners usually receive from department heads a list containing three names of those being recommended for a given job. The commissioners usually don't know the age, race or address of an applicant, he said.

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