AUSTIN (KXAN) – The city clerk confirms a federal consent decree proposal aimed at modifying the way Austin’s Fire Department screens and tests future cadet candidates will likely again be removed from the council agenda immediately before this week’s meeting.
This week city staff at a Council work session agreed to request council members postpone a vote on the item as was done at the Jan. 30 meeting. The consent decree item will likely reappear at council’s March 6 meeting.
The federally-mandated proposed agreement between the Department of Justice and the City of Austin stems from a civil rights complaint AFD’s 2012 hiring process favored white candidates over African-American or Hispanic candidates. Further examination by Justice Department attorneys also found discriminatory elements in the 2013 exam process.
For Austin’s Firefighters Association, the delay gives breathing room to further study the DOJ’s information for accuracy. Last week, AFA President Bob Nicks told KXAN his team needed up to four more weeks to analyze the DOJ’s data that led to its discrimination ruling.
The Austin Firefighters Association has also requested a mediation process between the AFA, the City, the DOJ, and also the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC’s involvement with case as it relates to the AFA is recent and is due to a cause determination notice in which the EEOC alleges the Association is also guilty of discrimination stemming from the 2012 hiring process.
“No date is confirmed, but we hope all interested parties are able to sit down very soon,” Nicks said in an AFA statement.
“Now that we have a bit of additional time before the item is next up for Council vote, we hope the time can be used constructively in mediation, such that all parties can agree upon a process with which to hire the best professionals to protect the citizens of Austin,” added Nicks.
KXAN first reported the DOJ proposal included paying 2012 minority cadets who successfully complete a remedial test as well as creating permanent slots at the city’s fire academy for up to 30 minority cadets.
No hiring has gone on at AFD since the DOJ ruling in mid-September. The last 47 hired cadets graduated in July.
Right now, the agency’s vacancy rate is 56, higher than the normal rate of about 36. Both union and city officials confirmed last week, fire crews are still able to exceed city-mandated minimum 24-hour staffing levels at all fire stations.
Firefighters were also in the midst of contract talks when the DOJ ruling came out. The AFA said no new talks have happened since the summer.