Lynwood Lifts Freeze on Firefighter Hiring

Times Staff Writer

The City Council has lifted a five-month hiring freeze on firefighters, which could put a black in a department that currently has none.

The council's action Tuesday came just three days before a hiring list, which includes one black applicant, was due to expire. It also came one week before a report on alleged discrimination in hiring is due to be submitted to the city.

The vote to lift the freeze was 3 to 2. Opposed were council members Robert Henning and Evelyn Wells. Mayor Paul H. Richards and council members John Byork and E. L. Morris were in favor.

The freeze originally had been imposed after Henning raised questions about Fire Department hiring practices. There are now no black firefighters in the 36-member Lynwood department, although there have been in the past. The population of Lynwood is about 40% black.

$5-Million Suit

An unsuccessful black applicant for a firefighter job has filed a $5-million claim against the city which alleges racial discrimination in hiring. The claim is being made by Gregory E. Handy, 28, of Houston, who also has lodged a complaint with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

Handy says in his claim that he was passed over on a 25-name waiting list in favor of less-experienced applicants.

The lifting of the freeze will make it possible for the Fire Department to fill three openings using what is called the "lateral list" of applicants, for firefighters transferring from departments in other cities. This is not the same waiting list that Handy applied for, which is for entry-level firefighters.

Black Is Second on List

The second-ranking applicant on the lateral list is a black man who presumably will now be hired, Henning said. The applicant's name was not available.

Although Handy has been a fireman with the Houston Fire Department, he applied for an entry level position rather than a transfer, and he also applied after this active hiring list was drawn up, Assistant City Manager Don Frazier said.

Frazier said the personnel department has been asked to extend the lateral list another six months so that the department's three openings may be filled from it. There are 19 names on the list. Frazier said the city Personnel Department is expected to comply. Meanwhile, he said, the Fire Department has begun to schedule interviews with candidates from the list.

Action Called Intentional

Henning charged that the council's action in lifting the freeze three days before expiration of the lateral list was taken specifically to enable the Fire Department to hire a black firefighter other than Handy.

"They're determined to keep (Handy) off," he said. "They're going to fill up all the positions" from the current list.

Councilman Morris, however, said the council's action was not in response to Handy's claim. "We had vacancies that should be filled," he said. "They've (the Fire Department) been in limbo for five months."

City Manager Charles Gomez said that the freeze had been imposed "precipitously" in response to Handy's claim, and that lifting the freeze at this time was an attempt to be fair to the people on the lateral list.

Active List 'in Limbo'

"We threw that active list into limbo," he said. "Those people had already been tested and trained. Our total hiring system was not in question. We're extending the list now for about the length of time it's been frozen to give these people a chance to be hired."

In addition to imposing a freeze in response to Handy's claim, the council hired a nonprofit organization, Cooperative Personnel Services, to conduct a study of the Fire Department's hiring practices. The study is due this week , Frazier said.

H. Clay Jacke II, Handy's lawyer, said, "I'm happy for the black (on the list) but that will not affect the suit. I think it will make my case stronger. My client has raised several problems with their procedures. This (council action) is an attempt to quiet these questions."

Jacke previously had said that if Handy's claim is rejected by the city, he will file a lawsuit against Lynwood on Handy's behalf.

The city is awaiting resolution of the complaint filed with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing before reaching a decision on Handy's claim, Gomez said.

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