The Austin Chronicle

Council Preview: Where There’s Smoke

, May 14, 2014, 6:16pm, Newsdesk

Tomorrow, City Council faces a choice on Item 10: “Approve a settlement of claims asserted by the United States Department of Justice concerning hiring practices within the Austin Fire Department.” The city has delayed hiring new AFD cadets until the claims of discrimination were reviewed the U.S. Department of Justice.

The DOJ did indeed find "adverse impact" on minority candidates in the qualifying process, although in the draft consent decree prepared for Council discussion, DOJ lawyers reiterate: “The United States does not allege in its Complaint that the City engaged in intentional discrimination.” In essence, the charge is that in 2012, the city used a faulty testing and scoring system on AFD applicants such that African-American and Hispanic applicants were disadvantaged. If the city approves the consent decree, hiring will resume and the lawsuit would go away – but the hiring process will also be effectively handed over to the DOJ for a period of four to eight years.

That latter provision sticks in the craw of the Austin Firefighters Association, which complains that the city appears to be using the consent decree to find a way out of good faith contract negotiations. (See “Is the City Trying to Bust the Firefighters Union?” Feb. 7.)

Pointing to the relative success of the 2013 hiring process – which qualified a considerable group of minority candidates – the AFA has released a counter-proposal, saying that there is no reason for the decree to cover post-2012 procedures: “The successful 2013 results prove that AFA’s involvement had a positive effect on the hiring process. At AFA, we see no reason to fix something that is not broken.”

Writing to Council, the AFA says, “Should City Council vote to approve the consent decree, the Austin Firefighters Association is prepared to go to court.” The consent decree is listed on the consent agenda – but will reportedly be kicked to a public discussion after 4pm.

Also prime on the agenda:

• A resolution reiterating the city’s ongoing opposition to the construction of SH45 (aka the “Aquifer Highway”) and directing staff to do what it can to propose alternatives

• Three related resolutions would direct staff to engage the latest trend in ride-sharing apps or “Transportation Networking Companies” (Uber, Lyft, etc.), initially through the peak time scarcity issue

• Mike Martinez’s proposal to find additional money to fund buyouts of the nearly 150 remaining endangered (or already flooded) homes in the Onion Creek flood plain.

For more on Thursday's Council, see the print edition or check here online tomorrow.

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