Hispanic aldermen demanding parity in city jobs and contracts on Wednesday accused Human Resources Commissioner Soo Choi of shortchanging Chicago’s fastest-growing group.
Testifying at City Council budget hearings, Choi got off to a rocky start by disclosing she has yet to hire a chief diversity officer one year after aldermen were told the $90,000-a-year job would be created.
Choi said she had been “close to hiring” two candidates, but both of them “fell through,” in part, because of “issues with salary.”
Choi also acknowledged under questioning that, of the 1,194 policy-making jobs exempt from the federal ban on political hiring and firing, 46 percent are filled by whites, 27 percent are held by blacks and 18 percent are filled by Hispanics. That’s virtually unchanged from last year.
With that, the hot seat that Choi was on got even hotter.
Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) accused her of setting a horrible example for the rest of city government with “abysmal” hiring and contracting numbers.
Of $11 million in contracts awarded by the Department of Human Resources over the last year, “Latino participation was zero,” Munoz said. And only 11 percent of the nine employees hired are Hispanic.
“You are the provider of leadership … when it comes to hiring because you’re the Department of Personnel,” Munoz said.
“If it’s clear that you can get away with basically saying, ‘We can’t find any,’ then the commissioners of Water, Transportation, Streets and San, Police [will say], ‘If Personnel ain’t doin’ it, I don’t need to do it.’ ”
Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), chairman of the City Council’s Hispanic Caucus, said the message being sent to Chicago’s second-largest racial or ethnic group is: “You need not apply because you’re not getting hired.”
“In my conversations with the mayor, he’s talked about diversity and parity. That message, for some reason, is not translating to you,” Villegas said.
Choi said she has “tried different strategies” to recruit more Latinos, but “applicant pools have never broken 20 percent.” In her own department, it’s been as low as eight percent.
“I can’t hire someone who doesn’t apply for the job. So, we have to look at recruitment,” she said.
“One place I have seen recruitment efforts more effective is with the police exam, where we did hire a vendor to get on the ground, reach out to communities and interact with them. We did see significant progress for Latino communities.”
She said she plans to hire a vendor to try that same approach “on a larger scale.”
As for the absence of Latino contractors and the shortage of black contractors, Choi said much of the work is related to test development and administration and drug and alcohol screening and minorities are tough to find in that field.
The explanation didn’t fly with South Side Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd).
“We don’t see any improvement. We’re actually seeing a decline,” Dowell said.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), chairman of the Black Caucus, complained about the “disconnect between personnel and the aldermen” that started with the city hiring scandal and continued, even after Chicago got out from under the Shakman decree and the constraints of a federal hiring monitor.
“We have groups throughout the city … if you’re looking for qualified candidates, maybe we can provide assistance in that,” Sawyer said.
In describing the chief diversity officer to aldermen last year, Choi said: “What we need is someone whose full-time job is to focus on this exact question. How are we going to better recruit more diverse applicant pools for not just our entry level, but at every level?”
Hispanics have bypassed blacks as Chicago’s second-largest racial or ethnic group and spread out into more neighborhoods. But a report released earlier this month showed that education, jobs, health care and other city services have not caught up to that growth.
Villegas jumped on the findings by demanding hearings on employment practices at the CTA, where the workforce is just 13 percent Hispanic.
He also drafted an ordinance that calls for draconian measures — including cutting off “taxes, tax incentives, TIF’s, intergovernmental agreements and other contributions” from the city if the CTA doesn’t do a better job of hiring Hispanics.