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    Clearwater promotions were fair, EEOC says

    Firefighters had filed complaints saying minority candidates were given preference for promotions.

    By JENNIFER FARRELL, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published August 3, 2002

    CLEARWATER -- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has dismissed 10 discrimination complaints filed against the city by firefighters in April.

    The complaints claim the city was biased in favor of minority job candidates in the department, by using diversity considerations as point factors in determining final scores for promotion.

    City officials have hotly denied the allegation.

    Of 13 promotions to the rank of lieutenant in the past two years, nine of those who got the jobs were white men, according to Michael Burke, city human relations manager.

    On Thursday, Fire Chief Rowland Herald said the numbers speak for themselves.

    "There obviously isn't any attempt to unfairly promote people based on some diversity goal," he said. "We used the criteria set in the union contract."

    Burke said part of the rancor stemmed from faulty forms used by the Fire Department as part of its promotion procedure. Two of the forms, Burke said, included a consideration for diversity in selecting people for promotion, if all other factors were equal.

    "The fire chief refused to use them and told people so. . . . He relies mostly on information from district chiefs and who is best prepared for leadership at the fire scene," said Burke. "The concept that white males were being hurt by a discriminatory practice was without merit."

    City Manager Bill Horne, while pleased with the ruling, said the city will be careful going forward.

    "We certainly will be mindful of how we conduct our affairs in the future, so we don't generate the perception that we're doing things unfairly," he said. "You really don't want to do anything that is even perceived to be unfair."

    John Lee, president of the local firefighters union, did not return calls.

    -- Jennifer Farrell can be reached at 445-4160 or

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