Affirmative Action Effort Inadequate, Officials Say

Times Staff Writer

Ventura County isn't doing enough to hire minorities for management-level jobs, the county's affirmative action officer and the chairwoman of an advisory committee say.

"There continues to be a lack of progress in the selection of minorities to agency or department head positions," Carolyn Kopp, chairwoman of the county's Affirmative Action Advisory Committee, said in a letter last week to John Flynn, chairman of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors.

The county has hired only one high-ranking minority since 1982--Joyce Yoshioka, second-in-command at the public defender's office--out of about 20 top-level positions that have come open, Kopp said. The county lost its only Latino department head when Resource Management Agency Director Victor R. Husbands retired earlier this year.

And on Wednesday, the county lost a chance to hire a minority to head a department when the Board of Supervisors pared the number of candidates for county treasurer/tax-collector to two, eliminating a Latino who had been among the four finalists.

"We should be doing more. We've got to give it some more resources," said Maria Diaz, the county's affirmative action officer.

Richard Wittenberg, Ventura County's chief administrative officer, maintains the county "has done a lot for affirmative action."

"We are sensitive to it. It is a very high priority for the board and for myself," Wittenberg said.

The county started its affirmative action program six years ago with a $30,000 study to assess problems and draw up minority-recruitment goals. It then hired Diaz to oversee the program and appointed a 15-member advisory board to make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors. The affirmative action budget now consists of Diaz's salary of approximately $40,000, which goes to oversee programs among the county's 6,000 employees.

By contrast, Santa Barbara County, which has 3,000 employees, has a $90,000 budget and employs a full-time administrator and secretary. The team, which works with the county's affirmative action commission and a special commission for women, also carries out internal job training.

Kern County, with 7,000 employees, has an affirmative action budget of more than $110,000, which pays for three analysts and a clerk. Kern also has an internal training program, a career opportunities development program for the handicapped, an employment counseling office and an aggressive recruitment and outreach program with local schools, an affirmative action official there said.

Kopp said her committee repeatedly has urged the county to allocate more money for minority job training and aggressive recruitment. The county's response, she said, is that the fiscal crisis leaves little money to spare.

That frustrates Kopp and others trying to apply affirmative action guidelines in the county.

"There's a lot of career counseling that could be done with our own employees that could motivate them to apply for those upper-level jobs," Diaz said. "It's time they . . . make this a number-one priority."

Diaz said she wants funding for an upward mobility program that would train and guide lower-echelon minority employes through the ranks of county government.

Board chairman Flynn said he favors such a program. But he contended that it could be accomplished without much money if department heads take the initiative and set a positive example.

"It ought to be automatic in every department to train people and move them into executive positions," Flynn said.

Diaz works with the county Personnel Department. She draws up minority-recruitment programs, sends out notices of management-level openings and recruits employees at local job fairs. Last year she investigated about 10 complaints of discrimination--mostly sexual harassment--and found no outright discrimination, she said.

But Diaz added that "we could be doing more.

"It's kind of tough when you only have one position," she said.

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