When Patrick Foster was hired by the Mesa Police Department in 1992, he was only the seventh black officer to join the force.
"When I met people from the Phoenix Police Department, a lot of the guys would joke with me and say, ‘Did you ever even look into Mesa?’ ” Foster said. “Mesa had a negative reputation as far as diversity was concerned.”
Then in 2000, Foster and eight other police employees filed a federal discrimination lawsuit alleging the department denied promotions and transfers to minorities and women. The suit was tossed out of court, but the fact that employees had banded together to file the suit indicated there was a negative perception within the workplace, diversity experts said.
Foster eventually was promoted to lieutenant and became only the second black officer ever to rise to that rank within the Mesa force.
Minority representation on the city staff appears to have improved during the past five years. And the number of highlevel positions held by minorities also has risen during that period.
Last year, Mesa hired police Chief George Gascón, who is of Cuban descent. Also, in November, the city promoted Debra Dollar to assistant city manager, making her the second-highest ranking woman employee in Mesa.
“It’s been a goal of the mayor and (City) Council that we have a work force that reflects the community,” said Mary Be- rumen, Mesa’s diversity director. “We’re not there yet, but it’s incremental steps.”
The percentage of minorities working in top civilian jobs for Mesa is higher than the percentage of those working in top civilian jobs for Maricopa County. The civilian labor force figures for the county, which were compiled by the state in 2004 using census data, show Hispanics only represent 1.5 percent of the total civilian force for top level jobs. Blacks, Asians and Americans Indians each represent less than 1 percent.
Hispanics in Mesa, by contrast, make up 8.4 percent of the top jobs in the city. When it comes to gender, men outnumber women by more than 2-1 in higher posts.
City Manager Chris Brady said he values a diverse work force, and he’s directed the police and fire departments to concentrate on casting a wider net when it comes to recruiting. That means advertising in more diverse publications where minority candidates or women might be seeking jobs.
Brady said he’s seeing some results. Recently he noticed more participation from women in the new police cadet class.
“We try to be careful to make sure we do a comprehensive recruitment,” Brady said. “We think we can attract more qualified minority candidates in the public-safety area.”
But some people in the community say minority representation in Mesa City Hall is still too low. The percentage of minorities in top level jobs also falls short of the city’s goals.
“From the numbers you gave, we’re not doing too well,” said Everette Woods, who sits on Mesa’s Human Relations Advisory Board. “I know the new police chief has been doing some things to try to make things better in the police department, but he can’t do it all by himself. That’s the only bright light I see so far.”
But measuring diversity is not as simple as examining numbers. Diversity consultant Linda Gravett said Mesa is likely focusing too much on recruiting and not enough on things such as managing, valuing and leveraging a diverse work force. Recruiting will be difficult if the city doesn’t demonstrate it values diversity, she said.
“I think they’re missing the boat,” Gravett said. “You have to have a work force that ... has initiatives in place to demonstrate it values diversity.”
She said the city should look at who has access to mentoring and job training, and then monitor how minorities and women progress to the top. Mesa does not track those numbers regularly, but personnel records show from July 1, 2005, until June 30, 2006, there were a total of 254 promotions citywide. Of those, 118 of them were white men and 74 were white women.
In addition, Gravett said the number of sexual harassment and racial complaints in a city also is telling. If word about complaints spreads, then recruits might not be willing to take a job or stay in a job, she said. Mesa, for its part, has had some notable problems since the police discrimination suit was filed seven years ago.
Last year, roughly 500 Mesa employees were cited for sending racial and sexually oriented e-mails on city time. The same year, Neighborhood Services director Lisha Garcia resigned after an employee accused her of favoring Hispanic staff members over white employees.
In 2005, the city hired an investigator to determine if City Attorney Debbie Spinner had wrongfully passed up a Hispanic woman for a promotion given to a white woman. The complaint was not substantiated, but it created bad publicity, the investigative report said.
Mesa also has had about 37 sexual harassment investigations since 1999, and 25 of those were sustained, according to personnel records.
Gravett said the complaints say a lot about the perceptions of employees.
“If people don’t feel they have any other recourse but to file grievances and complaints, what is missing in the culture that forces them to have a voice through that mechanism?” she asked.
Gary Manning, the interim Human Resource director, said he doesn’t think Mesa is faring much worse than other cities in terms of complaints. Plus, Mesa offers courses that promote diversity and encourage good conduct at work, he said.
“I think we have one of the best classes on harassment and discrimination that is out there,” he said.
Manning said he thinks the city has made “great strides” when it comes to recruiting, but acknowledged the city can do better when it comes to leveraging diversity and tracking the succession of women and minorities.