Local

Plan to review HFD diversity on hold

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Claims of discrimination and racial slurs are among the high-profile accusations against some members of the Houston Fire Department. However, a plan to address race relations and diversity is on hold.

The mayor proposed bringing in two law firms to review department procedures, but there's a delay to get it started. There is also a possibility of a federal investigation.

Dozens of supporters gathered at City Hall Wednesday, holding hands and praying for all the women who worked at the City of Houston. Their actions were especially for firefighters Jane Draycott and Paula Keyes, whose lockers were defaced with racially-charged graffiti earlier in July. Their lawyer says additional complaints could be coming.

"Many women had contacted my office. We're on the office with the now, it's very clear this is just the tip of the iceberg," said the firefighters' attorney Joe Ahmed.

It's the unknown scope of the problems at HFD that has left the city's elected officials so frustrated. Houston City Councilmember Jolanda Jones has championed for the Department of Justice to conduct an outside investigation, and she got a call from Washington on Tuesday.

"I know that the civil rights division is involved and I'm very excited because all I want to know right now, is where the problems are, where the land mines are, where the grenades are," said Jones.

Mayor Bill White also said he's also talked with representatives of the Dept. of Justice, but he said the city's Office of Inspector General can do a thorough job.

"I haven't seen any evidence that it's necessary or that OIG is incapable of pulling punches or anything like that," said Mayor White.

The mayor's efforts to spend $190,000 to hire outside law firms to thoroughly review the fire department was delayed for two weeks as elected leaders grapple with the right approach to handling a controversial issue.

"I think people are hurt, are angry. I think there's a lot of community who have been down this road before and I don't blame them a bit for having real concerns," said Houston City Councilmember Melissa Noriega.

In fact, Councilmember Noriega said she will hold what she expects will be a contentious hearing Monday on whether or not the council should spend the money.

The last few months, HFD has been dealing with racial and discrimination incidents. Back in March, a noose was found in a captain's locker. In May, two firefighters were heard making racial comments over a two-way radio and earlier in July, two female firefighters claimed they were targets of harassment.

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