A funny thing happened when a reporter for this newspaper began calling commissioners with questions about county hiring practices.
They answered the phone — and our questions, appearing anxious to defend the system against charges by Commissioner Hubert Sealey that nepotism and racism guide hiring decisions. The lone exception was Jerry Stephens, who joins Sealey as the only black commissioner.
Since he didn’t speak for himself, we will take a guess: Perhaps Stephens didn’t get the memo with the talking points, or maybe as a black he was reticent to argue against allegations that the county is discriminating against members of his race. If he wants to speak for himself, we will give him space on this page.
The commissioners, by answering their phones and our questions, are taking a different approach than with our queries about their pay, benefits and discretionary funds. On that, we — and you by extension — are getting the silent treatment as they try to wish the issue away.
The explanation for their eagerness to talk is easy enough: The county’s hiring practices can be defended, while there is no defense for the way the commissioners are compensated and spend discretionary money.
A wide-angle view of the demographics of county employees suggests no pervasive problem with hiring. The county’s 1,017 employees as of Dec. 31 almost perfectly match this county’s racial makeup. The only race disproportionately represented is whites, and only slightly so. That is likely a hangover from the days when whites ran this county.
We have no doubt that a zoom shot would reveal problems, and we suspect they would lean more heavily toward nepotism than racism, but that wouldn’t make this county unique. If anyone wishes to provide anecdotal evidence of such injustice, our number is 910-272-6100.
The commissioners have turned over hiring responsibilities to County Manager Ricky Harris, who has the final say in the process, something that his predecessor Ken Windley didn’t enjoy. We trust the system because we trust Harris — and totally reject Sealey’s suggestion that the commissioners be more involved in the process.
That would only ensure abuse; the commissioners already have their discretionary funds to help buy votes, and the county isn’t going to benefit from them winning more political favors through hiring.
It seems logical that the harder someone looks for something, the more likely it is to be imagined. That might be at play here with Sealey, who has said that he would call for an independent study of the county’s hiring practices.
On that point, we could side with Sealey. Such a study could either identify problems that could be corrected, or it could provide comfort to tens of thousands of Robesonians that they would get a fair shake while seeking employment with the county — regardless of skin color or the absence of a well-placed cousin or brother-in-law.
Such a study might be costly, but we are sure Sealey can find the money — his discretionary fund is drunk with cash.