ATHENS, Ala. (WHNT) Local and statewide NAACP members are calling for the Athens City Council to force the Athens Police Department to hire more minority officers, currently there are no African-American police officers in Athens.
During the Monday night city council meeting several concerned citizens spoke directly to the board. They say more needs to be done to hire officers that will better represent the community.
According to Human Resources, Athens currently has 340 regular full-time employees, of the 340, there are 44 employees who are minorities, that is 12.94 percent.
Officials report there are 76 department heads, managers and supervisors (general fund and utilities). Ten are minorities which is 13.16 percent.
City council member Jim Hickman told WHNT News 19 he feels it is a problem that needs to be fixed.
"I'm not sure what the secret is yet but we are going to have to start trying something different from we have been trying because it has not worked," Hickman said.
The Limestone County NAACP members say a better process of reporting police complaints and following through with a thorough investigation into each alleged issue needs to be addressed. They also are asking the council to consider purchasing video cameras that each officer will wear while on the street.
Monday night was the second time in three weeks members of the NAACP have made allegations about hiring processes in Athens.
Allegations of racial discrimination were made against the city of Athens and the process it used to hire a new fire chief.
Members of the Limestone County NAACP say that Fire Chief Tony Kirk was selected thanks to a “backroom deal” orchestrated by council members.
NAACP leaders accused council members of intentionally bypassing a black candidate for fire chief, and said it was the latest in a string of race-based decisions made by the council. The group did not elaborate on how black candidates were specifically discriminated against.
“Change will never come if you insist on not changing,” said an unidentified NAACP spokeswoman who addressed the council. Another NAACP leader scolded council leaders on how they conducted the hiring process, saying “We cannot continue the course as usual.”
Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks said the accusations had no merit at all, and no evidence to back them up.
“I would deny any charges of discrimination, that’s ridiculous,” said Mayor Marks.
City Council President Jimmy Gill also defended the hiring of Chief Kirk. Gill is black, and said Kirk received the job because he was the most qualified candidate.
“What they [NAACP] are saying, I think it’s absolutely wrong,” said Gill. “Everybody was treated the same. All applicants, regardless of race, status, whatever, all applicants were treated the same.”
NAACP officials said they have no plans to pursue legal action against the city of Athens. Mayor Marks said he would continue to work with the civil rights group on recruiting minority candidates who are qualified for available city positions.