Rev. Craig Pridgen nailed it in describing the numbers as “alarming.”

That’s just the right word for the current makeup of the Niagara County government employee roster.

As Pridgen, the pastor of True Bethel Baptist Church in Niagara Falls, noted during the county legislature’s Tuesday business meeting, minorities account for just 3.4% of the county’s overall staff, while the latest Census figures show 12.6% of the county population is minorities.

“That number should be alarming to everyone in this room,” Pridgen told county lawmakers. “My concern is we are OK with these numbers. We need to get to the root of this problem.”

Yes, we do.

The county has proven itself adept at filling jobs with politically connected figures, some of whom may not be fully qualified to do the work. That’s not a new phenomenon, of course. Patronage hiring has driven county government — to the detriment of the county taxpayers it is supposed to serve — for many years.

One of the outcrops of this questionable management style is a general lack of opportunity for members of the general public to even get a chance to apply for positions like public information officer, job development coordinator, public defender ...

The lack of full and aggressive promotion of position availability, and low to no commitment to the widely held notion that the best move for the organization is to hire the most qualified person for the job, contribute to the lack of diversity in county government.

Rev. Jessie Scott highlighted the point during Tuesday’s legislature meeting while lobbying for wholesale changes in the county’s hiring practices.

Scott, who is African American, argued that children in the county need to see “more people who look like me” in public jobs. The leader of Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope and member of the Niagara Falls Ministerial Council noted there are just 50 minority employees in the county’s 1,470-person workforce.

“That’s something we need to work on,” Scott said.

Right again.

On the plus side, we’re at least mildly encouraged by the unanimous support county lawmakers showed for a resolution sponsored by Democratic lawmaker Owen Steed, calling for the formation of an ad hoc committee to more closely examine issues surrounding minority hiring in the county.

The resolution noted that other than the current Democratic elections commissioner, not a single county department head is a minority. The district attorney’s office has no minority prosecutors and there has never been a public defender who was a minority.

“We want a committee that not only advances jobs, but looks to figure out why (minorities) aren’t taking (civil service tests) and applying for jobs,” Steed said. “Hopefully, with this resolution we’ll be able to look at ways to get people to apply.”

Steed proposed a committee made up of three appointees each from the legislature’s majority and minority caucuses, as well as representatives of Civil Service, the county Human Resources Director, the county Director of Employment and Training and two members from each party in the legislature.

While a committee alone will not necessarily fix the county’s outdated and patronage-heavy hiring practices, it is at least a step in a better direction, one that we should all hope results in a more diverse workforce that is more representative of the county population as a whole.

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