Sam McKenzie had some sharp words on racial diversity in Knox County last week, or the lack of it, when looking at magistrate candidates. Here’s more of what he said, on
appointments and other issues in race:
I think if you dug into the record, it would be pretty dismal in terms of how we’ve even made appointments. It’s a sad truth that very few commissioners outside the first (district) make minority appointments.
… going only by memory, it’s hard to recall any minority appointments from commission to boards – at least in the couple years I’ve been covering them.
McKenzie said he spoke with Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett on the matter:
I’ve talked to both the mayor and (chief of staff Dean Rice) about this and, in the past I’ve not made a big hairy, stinky deal about it … and I’ll try to work with folks and continue to work with people.
I’m just trying to tell people, let’s sit back and think about this, let’s think about where we are … the status quo is not satisfactory.
I think people view a still water as being ‘everything is OK.’ And I don’t think so. That would be a mistake, it that is just a common thinking. People aren’t happy with the way the county is being run from a diversity standpoint. I’m trying to be, I’m declaring a call, and to say ‘we’ve gotta start this process. We gotta start thinking along these lines.’
Robert Booker, a Knoxville civil rights activist and former director of the Beck Cultural Center, also had more to say:
My thing is history, and I look at the history of this county and try to compare what happened in the old days, compared to what happens today.
It amazes me that around 1887 or thereabouts we had three black people on the city council, and now we can only get one.
The appointment cycles – and the appointees – feed themselves for boards and commissions, according to Booker. That means that people tend to stick with those that they know for various appointments, and human nature tends to keep people from looking far outside their nearby circles. Booker explained it through the lens of someone appointing people today.
Everybody is in cahoots … because they’re just like us, they’re the people that we know, they belong to the same country club that I belong to, or he chaired a committee and I was pleased with the way he did it … we don’t know those other people.
Until we get to know the other people. And the other people have to know that appointments are available, to make applications.
And we did talk to the city, which had a few things to add. From an email with Knoxville’s communication staff. For the story we looked at current senior staff among both the city and the county, but city staff drilled down a little further:
Mayor Rogero’s first communications director was an African-American woman, Angela Starke. At the deputy director level, Dawn Michelle Foster was brought in as the No. 2 in the Office of Redevelopment, and Nate Allen was named KPD’s first African-American deputy chief last summer. Joshalyn Hundley works full-time as our Title VI coordinator.
KPD’s last cadet class was diverse, by gender, age and race. And Public Service Department has a program in place to identify job candidates and encourage diversity hiring.
There are other initiatives – a lot of attention to hiring a representational City work force at all levels.