Two Black Montclair firefighters say promotion test was against them
By LOUIS C. HOCHMAN
Two Black Montclair firefighters alleged that recent promotional reviews had been stacked against them to favor other candidates – prompting the Township Civil Rights Commission and the Montclair branch of NAACP to call for an immediate investigation.
On Thursday evening, Township Prosecutor Ira Karasick confirmed to the Montclair local by email that communications from both groups on the case had been received and were under review. He said the allegations relate to confidential personnel matters and that “any public statement, if there is one, regarding the municipality’s response will not come from me.”
And City Councilor Lori Price Abrams, one of the governing body’s liaison officers to the Civil Rights Commission, told CRC and the Montclair local on Thursday evening that there is a “broad support “among council members” to conduct a professional and thorough investigation into the allegations “.
Cary Chevat, communications secretary for the Montclair NAACP, said the section is also awaiting information about an investigation into a separate allegation that a “senior township employee” made race-insensitive remarks to section members. .
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If the firefighters’ claims turn out to be true, chapter president Roger Terry said in an emailed statement, “there appears to be a disturbing pattern of civil rights violations within the management of the township.”
Christa Rapoport, chair of the Montclair Civil Rights Commission, had emailed city council members and Mayor Sean Spiller on Monday, saying the case needed immediate investigation and no promotion should take place while ‘an investigation and a report would not be completed. Before the CRC meeting, she said, she had heard no confirmation that such an investigation would take place – “It’s silence.”
Rapoport pointed out that his email to the township was not a request, but a request.
“Serious factual allegations are being raised. Enough is enough. Why wouldn’t you demand that? ” she said.
City Councilor Peter Yacobellis, in an email to the Montclair local earlier this week, called the allegations “relevant.” Yacobellis and City Councilor Bob Russo also serve as the CRC liaison.
“I have asked our city manager and our city attorney to confirm the steps they will take to review this case and to clarify the role, if any, that council can play in supporting said request given our form. of government, ”Yacobellis said in the email.
Montclair has a council-manager form of government, in which a township manager has executive authority over municipal employees.
Terry, in his statement, said the NAACP received the “credible allegations of two African-American officers from the Montclair Fire Department” of racial bias and forwarded them to the CRC. Rapoport said that while its commission has the jurisdiction to investigate the case, it lacks the resources – and the township should hire an outside lawyer to conduct an investigation.
Firefighters allege that several factors were incorporated into the 100-point scoring grid from recent exams that had not been used for previous exams, Rapoport said. Firefighters say they were penalized for minor decades-old disciplinary incidents and absences, including for medical reasons, taken after giving notice, she told the Montclair local.
“The 20-and-30-year-old discipline was selectively viewed as negatively impacting the promotional scores of only African-American applicants,” Rapoport wrote in his message to township officials, describing the allegations. “This action had a disparate impact on these candidates. The acquiescence of the city’s human resources manager should be considered.
His email to the municipality also states that firefighters allege “inadequate administration and supervision of the exam.” Rapoport told the Montclair local that at least one firefighter said he was tested based on his responses to a hypothetical scenario, but received information about a different scenario than the one used for the ‘Evaluation.
“[The allegation is that] African Americans were given the wrong script and were then rated accordingly. How is it going ? Rapoport told the Montclair local. “These are all allegations that need to be confirmed. “
And firefighters allege Montclair fire chief John Herrmann did not “recuse himself from his son’s promotional activities with the Montclair fire department,” Rapoport said in the email to officials. of the canton.
The Montclair local firefighters also allege that they were not awarded any points for seniority, but were received on previous promotion reviews.
A June 30 memorandum from Township Manager Timothy Stafford (provided to the Montclair local by Rapoport) describes the rubric to be used for examinations for the ranks of lieutenant, captain and battalion commander. There are 25 points for a written exam, 25 for an oral exam, 35 for a ‘demonstration of practical development’ in which a candidate demonstrates skills and information to respond to a scenario, and 15 for performance history. to the candidate’s work.
In the latter category, points can be deducted for absenteeism or disciplinary incidents, and can be added for commendations, job-specific certifications beyond those awarded by the department and educational background. The section does not award points for seniority.
The Montclair Local, however, did not see any documentation rubrics used for previous reviews.
A public record request sent to the municipality on Wednesday for scoring criteria for recent and past exams, as well as candidate scores and other related documents, has yet to be answered.
Herrmann has yet to respond to a phone message left Thursday morning. Stafford has yet to respond to an email and phone message early Thursday night, but was out of town this week for the League of Municipalities annual conference in Atlantic City.
The Montclair local also left messages by phone or email to each board member and Spiller on Thursday evening, and is awaiting responses from most. Yacobellis and Russo each admitted receiving the messages but were not immediately available to speak and said they would be in touch on Friday.