Friday, January 24, 2020

Jim Crow Law Lives in St. Johns County: January 21, 2020, St. Johns County's Pearl Harbor Day?

To the good people of St. Johns County, Florida:

It happened in America, in St. Johns County, Florida, which Dr. King called "the most lawless place in America" -- on the day after the MLK birthday celebration. 

January 21, 2020 is a date that will live in infamy.  

Five Republican St. Johns County Commissioners voted to bestow our County Administrator's position as a political patronage plum, to their longtime family friend, Hunter Conrad.

The County Administrator position was neither posted nor advertised.  Wonder why?

Hiring a permanent County Administrator was not on the agenda.  As the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote in his book, Secrecy: "Secrecy is for losers."

Commissioners rudely, crudely rejected any search or advertising. 

A cabal of (white male) Republican County Commissioners relied upon word-of-mouth, illegally hiring another Republican elected official in a position for which he does not meet minimum qualifications.  

Commissioner Isaac Henry Dean started the discussion.  Then Commissioner Jeremiah Ray Blocker chimed in, joined by Commissioners Jeb Smith, James Kenneth Johns and Paul Waldron.

EEOC must investigate.  Now.

This hiring decision does not pass the "laugh test," or the "smell test."

Our Florida Constitution, Sunshine laws, and County ordinances were violated. 

On recruitment, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission websites states it's "illegal for an employer to recruit new employees in a way that discriminates against them because of their race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.  For example, an employer's reliance on word-of-mouth recruitment by its mostly Hispanic work force may violate the law if the result is that almost all new hires are Hispanic."   

Commissioners' "word-of-mouth recruitment" rejects and insults every single qualified person who might have applied. Not one woman or minority candidate was considered.  This decision stinks.

EEOC states that it's "illegal for an employer to discriminate against a job applicant" in recruiting.  "For example, an employer may not refuse to give employment applications to people of a certain race. An employer may not base hiring decisions on stereotypes and assumptions about a person's race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information."

Commissioners shared stereotypes and assumptions against hiring "outsiders."   Commissioner Paul Waldron admitted that he did not want to hire anyone from California to run "my county."   One speaker bragged about Conrad's religious beliefs.  

Religion or political affiliation are not bona fide occupational qualifications (BFOQs).  

In his 1998 cover letter, former County employee Cory "Duke" Mara, who later ran for elected office, touted both his religion and political affiliation.  

Irish-Americans once encountered signs stating, "No Irish need apply."   Commissioners have signaled that women and  minorities are unwelcome in their top job.  Perhaps they'll go whole hog and now erect  a carved marble Latin motto, like the one that reporter Mike Royko, the author of BOSS, once suggested for Chicago City Hall: "UBI EST MEA?"  ("Where's mine?")

Sole surviving son of a widow, my father volunteered for the 82nd Airborne the day after Pearl Harbor, at age 28.  My mom and dad taught me to speak out against injustice, just as JFK's dad taught him:  you must stand up to people with power or they walk all over you.  In that spirit, I worked to win victories for whistleblowers and other employment discrimination victims. 

Commissioners later agreed that the negotiation meeting between Chairman Jeb Smith and Mr. Conrad will be open to the public under the Sunshine law. That's small consolation for blatant government lawbreaking.

As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, "Decency, security and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our Government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the Government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy."

Enough louche lawbreaking here in my county.  If hindsight is 20/20, we should find it all the more unreasonable if this unjust decision stands.  A right without a remedy is simply a suggestion.

As our City's namesake, Saint Augustine of Hippo wrote: "An unjust law is no law at all."

I was the only public speaker to speak against this illegal hiring decision. 

As one wise person wrote me (not intended for attribution):

Will the approach used by County Commissioners become the accepted method when staffing vacant positions in the County? Will that be the "gold standard" going forward? Is it who you know, not what you bring to the table in terms of skills, competencies and capabilities? Does a track record of success and relevant experience in similar positions no longer matter? Should we disregard best employment practices which are designed to ensure objectivity, transparency, diversity and fairness? Should we perpetuate employment practices of the past to ensure we select someone just like us (conservative white males) to keep the good ole boy network flowing?

I'm disappointed in County Commissioners. They obviously could give a hoot about best practices, objectivity, transparency, fairness and diversity. We just took a step back about 50 years.

With kindest regards, I am,
Sincerely yours,
Ed Slavin


More on the illegal hiring of Hunter Conrad, an elected official, as permanent St. Johns County Administrator in violation of Sunshine, Open Records and civil rights laws. 

1. My January 22, 2020 blog post and St. Augustine Record article on illegal permanent County Administrator hiring decision at January 21, 2020 Board of County Commissioners meeting are here:

2. January 21, 2020 Board of County Commissioners meeting 

agenda is here -- see Item 7  (national search, not permanent hire)

meeting video is here:
A. Item 7 (national search, not permanent hire), and comments I made during subsequent items.
B. I spoke in general public comment on concealment of PowerPoint on national search (Item 7). 
C. my comments during later items, after Item 7.

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