Talk of the Town - Diversity debacle August 26 2000

Fulton targets whites (again)

A blockbuster civil rights lawsuit filed earlier this month has ripped the lid off an egregious case of racial and sexual discrimination by officials at the Atlanta-Fulton County Library System. On May 25, eight librarians were abruptly reassigned and demoted in a bizarre effort by library board Chairman William McClure, system Director Mary Hooker and others to impose diversity at the Central Library by, as the lawsuit quotes McClure, "get[ting] rid of all the old, white women."

Seven of the eight librarians were shipped out because they are white women. Another librarian, a black woman, was also reassigned when she objected to plans to remove her colleagues on the basis of race and gender.

On Aug. 11, the eight women filed suit, charging McClure, Hooker and the entire library board with violating the white plaintiffs' 14th Amendment equal protection guarantees, and the black plaintiff's First Amendment right to free speech.

McClure has denied the charges, telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the plaintiffs were not reassigned based on race and describing the reorganization as "a business decision." But CL's review of the case files makes it clear that — assuming there's any justice left in the American legal system's strange hall of mirrors — the defendants will be hard pressed to refute the damning evidence against them.

Concerned about the racial mix at the downtown branch, the board late last year told Hooker to create a system-wide list compiling the race, gender and job level of all managers and administrators. Hooker's Jan. 4 list found, among the system's 44 managers, 26 black females, 13 white females, four white males and one black male. (The breakdown was similar for administrators.)

On Jan. 6, according to board meeting minutes, Vice-Chair Mary Ward spoke of the "problem [of] a white dominated administration" at Central. In a letter attached to the lawsuit, a former board member recalls Ward saying, at a meeting early this year, "There are too many white faces in management at the Central Library." McClure wanted something done.

While Hooker had compiled the racial tally sheet in January, by spring she appears to have become concerned about possible legal fallout from reshuffling librarians along racial lines. In an April 13 memo, she urges McClure to "refrain from advancing the reorganization," warning of possibly "significant legal ramifications."

On the same day, Hooker sent board members three newspaper articles detailing several reverse-discrimination cases against Fulton, including successful bias complaints by a white firefighter, a white deputy county manager and a group of white sheriff's deputies. (In 1998, the county paid $500,000 just to settle the firefighter's complaint.)

Hooker forwarded the news clips with a simple "for your information," but her intent seems clear. Without directly contradicting McClure, she wanted to dissuade the board from precipitously reorganizing the Central Library — and adding yet another chapter to Fulton's growing reverse-discrimination saga.

A day later, on April 14, Hooker called County Attorney June Green for an opinion. Green did not mince words in a reply memo: "The reorganization that has been proposed by the [board] will likely violate Fulton County Personnel Policies and Procedures."

None of this, it seems, mattered to McClure, who wanted the white women out of Central — no ifs, ands, buts, county policies or constitutional niceties about it. In an April 17 letter, he ordered Hooker to proceed "in accordance with the timeline you established of April 2000." Six weeks later, the dirty business was done, the offending white faces scattered far and wide in branch libraries across the county.

While it is all well and good to celebrate America's diversity, it is something wholly different and profoundly sinister to assign people to jobs based on race and gender in the name of diversity. Such schemes are anathema to the American system — and they are unconstitutional.

The next time some pathetic, power-drunk board of public functionaries considers imposing diversity by decree, it would do well to listen to itself in Technicolor. Perhaps someday the very idea of complaining about "too many" whites or blacks or Hispanics will be foreign to us. Until then, there are the courts.

Contact Luke Boggs at lukeboggs@hotmail.com.

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