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Fired U.S. Census recruiter fires back

He says that finding and testing enough job applicants was nearly impossible and that his request for classified ads went unheeded.

By ALICIA CALDWELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 7, 2000


TAMPA -- Perry Limes said he was given a next-to-impossible task.

As manager of the Tampa office for the U.S. Census, he and his counterpart in Hillsborough County were supposed to recruit and test 19,000 people for temporary, part-time census jobs.

But the unemployment rate in the county was so low, Limes said, that only 15,000 employable people were looking for jobs.

Limes, fired by the U.S. government last month for not recruiting enough people, said he tried nevertheless. He asked to put classified advertisements in the newspaper but said he could not get authorization from his bosses.

"Being terminated was not the worst thing that's ever happened in my life," Limes said. "But being terminated unfairly is not right."

Lance Robertson, a Census 2000 spokesman based in Atlanta, said Thursday that he could not comment on personnel matters.

Limes provided a letter from James Holmes, census regional director, that cited four reasons for his firing, the "most crucial" being his poor performance in recruiting, the letter said.

The letter said the Tampa office had only 1,335 people in the Tampa applicant pool while the goal was 8,984. Limes, the letter said, was a poor manager who disregarded suggestions and procedures.

Limes, 54, who has filed a grievance contesting his firing, disputes Holmes' claims. He said he has experience in census work and was a regional technician for the 1990 Census in New York state.

"It's not like I haven't done this before," Limes said.

He also questioned what he said is a dramatic reduction in recruitment goals for the Tampa office and whether that change was designed to make the Tampa office look as though it was closer to making its goals.

When he was on the job, he was supposed to find and test 8,984 candidates for Tampa jobs.

Numbers from a report released last week from the national census office put the Tampa goal at 4,484.

"There are a lot of questions that need to be answered," Limes said.

It doesn't make sense, Limes said, that the number of candidates needed would be reduced while the mail-in response rate for census forms is under target.

Numbers from the Census 2000 response rate Web site, updated Wednesday, put Tampa's mail-in rate for census forms at 51 percent while the office's goal is 66 percent.

Chip Walker, spokesman for the U.S. House of Representatives census subcommittee, said subcommittee members are concerned about the discrepancy in recruiting goals.

"That's one of the things we're working on now," Walker said.

Robertson, the census spokesman, said he could not comment on the difference in numbers.

He also would not discuss a planned visit to local census offices by a representative from the U.S. House of Representatives' census subcommittee.

Walker said a member of the census subcommittee will visit the Tampa office, as well as two other local offices, Monday and Tuesday.

The subcommittee representative will attempt to determine whether Tampa has enough census takers to go door-to-door and whether workers from other areas could be pulled in to help.

Census procedure calls for workers to pinpoint homes that did not return forms, then visit three times and call on the phone three times in an effort to get census forms returned.

"We've made the bureau aware that we are going to be investigating this local census office," Walker said. "We're still in the beginning stages here."

Limes said he is ready, willing and able to talk to interested parties about what went wrong in the Tampa office. "I have volunteered to testify before anybody to explain what support we were given and what support we weren't given," Limes said.

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