LUMBERTON — Commissioner Hubert Sealey says the hiring process for county employees is broken and needs to be repaired.
“Hiring in Robeson County is based on two things, ” Sealey said. “That’s nepotism and race.”
Sealey’s opinion, however, is not supported by other county commissioners and administrators who spoke with The Robesonian about the hiring system that Sealey, who is black, contends discriminates against black people and does not ensure that the best-qualified individuals are hired for county positions.
Commissioners Noah Woods, Tom Taylor, Roger Oxendine, David Edge, Lance Herndon and Raymond Cummings all said Sealey’s arguments aren’t in line with employment statistics supplied to them by county administrators. Commissioner Jerry Stephens, the only other black person on the board, did not return a reporter’s calls seeking comments for this story.
“Our hiring process works just fine,” said Woods, the board’s chairman. “If there was anything wrong with it, I wouldn’t be a part of it.”
County Manager Ricky Harris, who has been given the authority by the county commissioners to make all final hiring decisions, said that during 2012 he hired 21 employees — 10 American Indians, six whites and five blacks.
Sealey contends that the county hired 76 employees in 2012, with only eight blacks getting jobs. His number, according to both Harris and Constance Young, the county’s human resources director, includes employees for which the county manager has no hiring authority, including the departments of social services, health and elections, along with the sheriff’s office and register of deeds.
According to county records, as of Dec. 31, there were 1,017 county employees — 406 American Indians (40 percent of the county workforce); 218 blacks (21 percent); 373 whites, 37 percent; 18 Hispanic (2 percent); and two others. The percentages for the three major races closely mirror the county’s demographics.
“Many of the departments for which the county manager hires are small,” Young said. “Less than 300 county employees are actually hired by the manager.”
Young said her major role in the hiring process is ensuring that all candidates who meet the minimum requirements for a position get the opportunity to be considered for that job opening.
“My job is to make sure there is a diverse pool of applicants for a posted position,” she said. “If I’m requested for more help, such as to sit in on interviews, I do that.”
Young said that in many counties human resources personnel are more involved in the hiring process than she is in Robeson. This involvement takes various forms, she said, including reviewing applications and participating in interviews.
Sealey complained that there is no system of “checks and balances” in the hiring system.
“How can I ensure my constituents that we are getting the most-qualified people placed in jobs when I don’t even get to see the applications?” Sealey said.
He contended that the county commissioners and the human resources director should have more input in the hiring process. He would like to see the commissioners have the opportunity to review all job applications, and the human resources director sit in on interviews and have more input into the selection of the candidates the manager finally hires.
Harris said the commissioners have given him sole authority to make final hiring decisions, adding that the county’s hiring process includes all applications meeting qualifications being reviewed by a department head and a three-member committee consisting of a white, black and American Indian. These individuals interview job candidates and then make their recommendation to the manager, who makes the final decision.
Although county commissioners and administrators contend that hiring is done based only on qualifications, the application form asks for an applicant to include information on which commission district that person lives.
Harris said the hiring process differs from when Ken Windley was county manager. Under Windley, three applications — including his recommendation — were submitted to the commissioners for their review and approval.
“I think it’s good that the commissioners got out of the hiring process,” Harris said.
Edge strongly believes the final decision on hiring should be the manager’s.
“I think the process we have now is fine,” Edge said. “I advocated giving all of the authority to the county manager to make final hiring decisions. That’s not our job. That’s why we have a county manager.”
Both Harris and Young emphasized that it is not always possible to hire an individual for a job just to keep a racial balance.
“We would like to mirror the county’s employment to the census, but sometimes applicants don’t meet the job requirements,” Young said. “We always want the most qualified — those who have the skills — to fit in the department.”
Oxendine, chairman of the county’s Personnel Committee, voiced the opinion of the majority of the commissioners when he said qualifications, not race or nepotism, is what determines employee hiring.
“I like to see the numbers remain close, but that’s not always possible,” he said. “I recommend people for jobs. That’s what I was elected for. But I don’t get involved in the hiring. The one hired has to be the most qualified … . I think I’ve done just as much to get whites and blacks hired as I have done for Indians.”
Taylor also stressed the importance of qualifications.
“I don’t look at race. I look at who has the best qualifications for a specific job.” he said. “When people come to me and ask for help getting a job I tell them I can get them an interview, but then they have to sell themselves on their qualifications.”
Young acknowledged that there is some degree of nepotism involved in the county employee system, but emphasized that it’s minimal.
“There is some nepotism, but where isn’t that present?” she said. “The county’s policy is that some family members can work for the county as long as one family member is not the direct supervisor of the other.”
Oxendine said he doesn’t see much nepotism.
“Of course there are members of the same family with county jobs,” he said. “There aren’t that many jobs in Robeson County.”
Sealey wants an independent evaluation of the county’s hiring practices.
“I’m going to contact someone myself, probably from the state, to do this investigation,” he said.