Jose Manuel Feliciano has always been one to believe that nothing is beyond the reach of determined minds, regardless of race or social condition.
The son of a poor Pentecostal minister, Feliciano lived during his childhood years in a converted garage in a small town in Puerto Rico.
But his humble background, he proudly points out, did not prevent Feliciano, 39, from getting two college degrees and fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming a public servant.
These days Feliciano is facing the biggest challenge of his life. As coordinator of Glendale’s newly revamped affirmative action program, his job is to persuade other minorities that they can also succeed.
It is by no means an easy task, given Glendale’s less than exemplary efforts to recruit minorities and its recent history of racial incidents. In the past four years, Glendale has lost a major discrimination lawsuit filed by a Latino police officer; been home to a white supremacist group; attracted a rally by another white supremacist group that ended in a near riot, and seen homes, cars, a Jewish temple and a school smeared with racist graffiti.
None of which is surprising to Feliciano, he is quick to point out. After all, the city is going through an at-times painful transition from what was once a white, conservative community to an ethnically diverse California melting pot.
“It’s a sad commentary to make,” Feliciano said in his small, cluttered City Hall office. “But it’s going to get worse before it gets better. As immigrants continue to come, I predict more incidents of racial tension in the San Fernando Valley, including Glendale.”
To ease such tensions, the city has launched a major offensive to integrate the municipal work force. Critics say that Feliciano’s efforts are in the wrong direction and that the city is not doing enough to make up for the damage created by years of neglect.
But Feliciano will have none of it. Just watch me, he seems to say, his words and gestures denoting confidence about the job he began in November.
Feliciano arrived to Glendale in 1977 as a personnel trainee and quietly rose through the ranks. Ten years and five promotions later, he became the city’s personnel services administrator.
A devoted family man and proud father of two, along the way Feliciano became a real estate investor and prospered. “Let me tell you,” he grinned. “I’ve made a lot more money in real estate than I have in this job this year.”
Affirmative action coordinator since 1981, Feliciano acknowledges that he and the city did not begin recruiting minorities aggressively until virtually forced to in 1986. That year, Carlos Jauregui, a Latino police officer, successfully sued his department for discriminatory promotional practices.
What was once a marginal occupation that took up “about 20%" of his office time has now become Feliciano’s main responsibility--affirmative action duties account for “more than 60%" of Feliciano’s workload.
“I see an emphatic, positive change on the commitment of public officials since around 1986 toward welcoming a more integrated work force,” Feliciano explained.
As a result, in two years the percentage of minorities in the work force jumped from 24.4% in 1986 to 29.2% of the city’s 1,419 employees in 1988. It had taken the city 11 years before that to raise its minority representation from only 10%.
Since then, city officials also began hiring consultants, commissioning studies, sponsoring ethnic festivals and establishing seminars and workshops to increase awareness of cultural, gender and age differences among city employees.
Starting last month, all new employees are given a two-hour crash course conducted by Feliciano on cultural diversity. Posters preaching tolerance and praising diversity ordered by Feliciano cover the employee orientation room.
At a recent orientation class, Feliciano addressed a group of seven employees, of whom five were minorities. He said the mix is typical of the kind of employees the city is hiring.
Recruitment Stepped Up
The city has also stepped up its recruitment efforts. In February, the city contracted the Los Angeles-based consulting firm of Glenda Madrid and Associates to establish specific minority hiring goals based on “relevant market” analysis--a study of the ethnic makeup of the different labor pools the city draws on to fill its positions.
Also, last month the Glendale City Council allocated $142,000 to hire a minority recruiter and a clerk and to pay for advertisements to attract minorities. Feliciano wasted no time in putting the money to use--last week Sandra Houlemard became the city’s first full-time minority recruiter.
Most of the changes stem from an independent study of the Glendale police hiring and promotional practices ordered by U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian in his ruling on the Jauregui case.
The 11-month study was completed last November by the Latino law firm of Ochoa and Sillas. It concluded that the Glendale Police Department had disregarded its own promotional practices and built a force led by white officers who were slow to act on racial complaints.
It also made a number of specific recommendations to improve the entire city’s hiring and promotional practices and to deal more effectively with future harassment complaints.
In a joint public statement, then-City Manager James Rez and Police Chief David J. Thompson said they accepted the study’s findings and vowed to carry out most recommendations immediately.
Attorney Herman Sillas, who wrote the report, was retained as an adviser by the city to help Feliciano make those changes.
‘Long, Hard Look’
“The Ochoa and Sillas report made us take a long, hard look at ourselves,” City Manager David Ramsay said.
The Jauregui ruling, however, fell short of imposing minority hiring quotas on the city or any of its departments. “Our affirmative action program is completely voluntary,” Feliciano explained.
The court case, Feliciano said, addressed problems in only one of the city’s departments and was limited to the Police Department’s promotional policies--not hiring problems or work- force harassment.
Doris Woods, enforcement manager of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Los Angeles office, said cities are required only to be equal opportunity employers to be eligible for federal contracts.
She said her office handles individual complaints but does not monitor city programs.
Glendale has had since 1972 an affirmative action policy plan that resembles many others throughout the country. In the plan, Glendale says its goal is to “place the ethnic composition of the permanent full-time Glendale work force on par with the composition of the labor market. . . .”
For years, however, the city did little more than some advertisements in black and Latino newspapers.
“Before 1986 we were concentrating on internal processes, like changing the classifications of ‘policeman’ to ‘police officer’ and ‘fireman’ to ‘firefighter,’ things like that,” Feliciano explained.
‘A Lot of Selling’
“To get an affirmative action program going, you have to do a lot of selling, changing minds, education, understanding . . . and it takes time.”
Results from the Madrid study are expected in July, but Feliciano does not need a report to know that the city badly needs more minority employees. “When you can’t go down any further, the only way is up,” Feliciano said.
Despite the renewed commitment to affirmative action, city employment has fallen far short of reflecting the rapid demographic changes occurring in Glendale.
A recent Glendale school board study shows that the number of students whose primary language is not English has jumped from 18.4% in 1981 to 59% this year, said Alice Petrossian, the school district director of intercultural studies.
Nor is the city anywhere close to reflecting the diverse makeup of its immediate labor market--Los Angeles County. According to data from the 1980 census, minorities account for 46.9% of the county’s work force. And by all accounts, the minorities’ share of the labor market has increased significantly since then.
Meanwhile, the Glendale Fire Department, which contains the city’s least-integrated employee roster, is still 94% white and has yet to hire a black, an Asian-American or a woman.
And the perception of racial harassment in the work force has yet to disappear. Glendale Employees Assn. Vice President Art Sandor said he has received three complaints of alleged racial harassment so far this year.
2 Complaints Passed On
He said two of the complaints have been passed on to the city manager, while the merits of the most recent complaint are still being evaluated. Ramsay said his office is conducting a thorough investigation in both cases, which remain confidential to protect the alleged victims.
Moreover, critics contend that the city’s affirmative action program has not prevented whites from retaining a near-monopoly over the city’s top jobs. City statistics filed with the Federal Equal Employment Agency last year show that 94.1% of the city’s executive-level and 80.6% of the city’s management-level positions are held by whites.
“The affirmative action movement started in 1965 . . .,” said Glendale Community College administrator Ray Reyes, a longtime critic of of the city’s minority hiring policies. “When is Glendale going to find that out? When are they going to stop wasting time in studies and seminars and start opening choice jobs to minorities?”
Easier said than done, replied Feliciano. And taking shots from people like Reyes, he said, does not help the process. It’s hard enough, Feliciano said, to overcome the negative publicity that has rocked Glendale in the last four years.
The string of incidents revived unpleasant memories that the city had been quietly trying to outlive--such as being the home to the American Nazi Party’s Western Region headquarters between 1966 and 1968 and the violence that followed the first wave of Latino immigrants in the early 1970s.
If only the press got off the Glendale-bashing bandwagon, Feliciano snapped. “But the press continues to alienate people by looking at the past, instead of the future, and I resent that,” he said. “I happen to think the city is truly committed to affirmative action. We are way ahead of what everyone else is doing.
‘Called Me a Coconut’
On a recent recruiting trip for the Police Department to East Los Angeles, a group of Latino activists Feliciano won’t name, “called me a coconut,” he said. “You know, brown in the outside, white in the inside.”
Feliciano said the remark did not anger him as much as he was saddened by the lost opportunity. “I felt these people were screening themselves out of the competitive process, and I know the process is fair.
“But it takes a long time for people to change their preconceived notions. They want to be sure we’re for real and not just putting up a front.”
Echoing statements made by several top city officials in recent years, Feliciano dismissed the city’s racial problems as “isolated incidents that do not reflect the views of the wide majority of this city’s residents.”
Furthermore, he said, Feliciano himself is the perfect example of the city’s commitment to hiring and promoting minorities.
When he came to California, Feliciano said, he applied for work in at least a dozen cities and government agencies. Fresh out of college with a master’s degree in public administration and having done some social work in New York state, Los Angeles and Glendale, he soon found out that not too many organizations were interested in a relatively inexperienced Puerto Rican who could not communicate well in English. “Glendale was the only city that gave me a chance,” he said. “All the others turned me down.”
Whether Feliciano and the city develop enough credibility among minority groups to attract quality recruits and see them rise up the ladder remains to be seen.
After all, as Reyes pointed out, employment records--not seminars and studies--ultimately determine the success or failure of affirmative action programs.
Let the skeptics talk, Feliciano said, because no matter what they say today, “in five years you’ll be writing the biggest success story in Glendale’s history.”