Is It Because I’m Black?
Imagine City Manager Joe Gray addressing the Portland City Council just like he did last Monday night. In your mind’s eye, picture him announcing the name of the candidate who has earned his recommendation to be the city’s next chief of police.
“Mayor and members of Council, after careful consideration, I am forwarding to you Anthony Holloway as my choice to be the next chief of the Portland Police Department.” [Scattered gasps and claps in the audience; a councilor’s laptop says, “Welcome! You’ve got mail!”]
“Granted,” Gray continues officiously, “Captain Holloway has less law-enforcement and administrative experience than interim chief Tim Burton, and as a resident of Florida, he is much less familiar with our community. However, members of two advisory panels gave Holloway a more ringing endorsement than Burton, who was also strongly endorsed. Furthermore, I hear most of the police force would rather have Holloway be their boss, though they say they can live with Burton just like most of them put up with Chitwood all these years.
“After receiving the panels’ advisory opinions, the two candidates sat through lengthy, in-depth, largely humorless interviews with myself and Dr. Robert McAfee, chair of the Police Citizen Review Subcommittee – which, by the way, is working just fine. After those interviews, it was clear to both of us that Tim Burton is not only the more qualified candidate, but that he’s actually been running the department for the past several years while Chitwood manned the podium. Who knew?
“Anyway,” Gray concludes, “what it really came down to is this: Holloway’s black and Burton’s white. We have an official affirmative action plan here in Portland, and it says we need to hire a lot more women. Unfortunately, neither of the candidates for police chief fits this description. But the plan also says we should hire at least one more person from a minority racial background, and Holloway clearly has an edge over Burton in this respect, so I recommend we hire him.”
Now try to imagine anyone being satisfied with this outcome.
All kidding aside, Gray’s choice for chief boiled down to picking the better-qualified candidate. At last Monday’s contentious council meeting, no one suggested Holloway was more qualified for the job, and no one had anything negative to say about Burton. Even Burton’s potentially most damning critics, the rank-and-file beat cops and detectives who’ve worked under him for years, could articulate no compelling reasons why he shouldn’t get the job.
Many people, including Mayor Jill Duson, questioned the fairness of Gray’s selection process. But these critics’ key complaint, that Gray failed to properly weigh the advice of his advisory panels, is weak considering that most panelists approved of both candidates, and neither raised any serious red flags about Burton’s competence to be the top cop.
In any case, these appointed advisors were just that: cops, community members and city department heads asked to give their advice during one part of the multi-stage selection process. The panel that rightfully makes the final decision, the elected councilors, approved of this process before it was set up, and all save Duson believe it was fair now that it’s complete.
The city’s recently updated affirmative action plan says the city is actually doing a good job overall in meeting its racial minority hiring goals. The much bigger disparity in the municipal workforce at large is a lack of gender equity.
The plan does suggest the city should have one more person of non-white heritage among its 58 departmental managers, but it doesn’t specify which department. So the next time an upper-management position opens at City Hall, critics of Burton’s selection should keep an eye on that hiring process, too, and the next, and the next. The uneven Burton-Holloway match-up is not a good example by which to judge the city’s commitment to affirmative action. A better test case could come along anytime.
Also in the meantime, we should all pay attention to the real, concrete reality of race relations inside the PPD and between the cops and citizens. Is the department doing enough to attract and retain minority employees? Are the cops treating the citizens they protect with equal respect, regardless of skin color?
If these things aren’t happening, who cares what color the chief is? Color him gone.
— Chris Busby
Chris Busby is editor and publisher of The Bollard.