There are legal questions about a Warner Robins Police hiring mandate set by city council. 13WMAZ recently learned about it after a records request opened up minutes from a closed meeting held last summer. In that meeting, Warner Robins city leaders agreed to direct then-Police Chief Brett Evans to grow the force by 10 officers in 60 days and to make half of those hires minorities.
The records WMAZ got this week cast new light on that city council meeting from the summer and raise a big question: Can the city factor minority status into hiring decisions?
We set out to Verify. We dug into federal law and talked to a legal scholar at Mercer Law School, the Warner Robins City Attorney, and the city's human resources director.
Newly-released documents from last summer's closed session show Warner Robins Mayor Randy Toms and council directed ex-Police Chief Brett Evans that "he had 60 days to hire net 10 police officers, with half being minorities." On Wednesday, we asked his replacement, acting Chief John Wagner, if the mandate was legal.
Wagner said, "You know, that's a human resources question."
We spoke to city human resources director Toni Graham, who wouldn't talk on camera, but did say that she wasn't invited in that closed session or consulted before city leaders handed down that mandate. When asked if the policy was legal, she directed us to a page on the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's website that says, "It is illegal to discriminate against someone because of that person's race, color, religion (or) sex," and goes on to state, "The law forbids discrimination in every aspect of employment."
But Mercer Law School Professor Tony Baldwin says it's not quite that clear-cut. Over the phone, he said under certain circumstances hiring quotas are allowed and past practices play a big part in making that determination.
"It really depends on whether or not there's some history of failure to hire some number of minority police officers in the past," said Baldwin.
Still, City Attorney Jim Elliott, who wasn't in town when the meeting happened and doesn't recall being consulted before the mandate was handed down, says quotas can be legally dangerous for a city.
"Specific racial quotas? That's a legal problem obviously," Elliott said, but he wouldn't say outright that the mandate was a problem. "I don't know that that was a specific directive. What I think that was was a goal or aspiration to increase the number of minority hires."
But having said all that, the document shows plainly that the mayor and council did agree to direct Chief Evans to make half of his new hires minorities.
City HR director Toni Graham says since last summer, partly because of the number of officer vacancies, all candidates who met the department's standards have been hired regardless of minority status.