Undecided: City Officials Discuss Search Firm for Diversity Inclusion Officer Position

Councillor-at-Large Leo Robinson was an original co-sponsor of the motion to hire a diversity inclusion and equity officer for the first time in the city’s history.

Robinson favors bringing in a search firm to aid the city in such key elements of the selection process as writing a job description, recruiting candidates and ultimately helping to present the finalists for the position to City Manager Thomas Ambrosino.

Robinson, who has been involved in selection processes for many years, said the cost for hiring a search firm would be between $15,000-$20,000.

At a meeting chaired by Council President Roy Avelleneda Tuesday night to discuss the hiring of a search firm and other position-related matter, the Council appeared to be split on the decision of whether to hire a search firm. There was no vote taken on the matter.

And two of Chelsea’s most well-known community leaders, Chelsea Black Community President Joan Cromwell and Bunker Hill Associate Dean Caulfield appeared to be on opposite sides of the issue at the meeting. In remarks, Cromwell, the dynamic leader of the CBC, seemed to be in favor of having the city oversee and select a diversity inclusion officer. Caulfield, also in attendance at the meeting, spoke in favor of hiring a search firm, noting to all in attendance how successful the search committee was in leading the process that led to the hiring of Thomas Ambrosino as Chelsea’s City Manager.

Perhaps, City Councilor Judith Garcia asked the most pertintent question of the sessions, one that many residents wanted to know: “What is the ideal aggressive timeline” that the new diversity inclusion officer would begin in the position?

Ambrosino answered Garcia’s query directly, stating that it was his intention to have the new diversity inclusion officer hired by mid-January to Feb. 1, 2021.

Councilor Naomi Zabot spoke in favor of hiring a search firm, suggesting that “it’s important to have a consulting firm help us with this because we’re basically entering unchartered territory.”

“The need for this position has existed forever,” said Zabot. “We absolutely do need help [from a search firm]. We need to find candidates who not only have the personal references but also have the training. I think having a person helping us with this is important.”

Garcia could sense the split on the issues, saying, “I hear strong cases from both sides – yes for the consulting firm and this idea that we should save $20,000 and look within.”

City Solicitor Cheryl Watson Fisher offered the most definitive clarification of the hiring process, telling the councilors point blank that “With all due respect, you really don’t have any authority to hire or be involved in the hiring, buy you can set the policy that we need to hire.”

Councillor-at-large Damali Vidot said, :”I just can’t justify this $20,000 expense [for hiring a search firm] in my mind, knowing that we have talent here.”

Caulfield, with Councillor Leo Robinson and School Committee member Henry Wilson, signaling their approval of her remarks, said, “If you’re looking for the best person, you really need a consulting firm. You do not need to jump into this by yourself. You have to be impartial, completely. You need a person that can do human resources, a person that knows the law, a person that collaborate with the entire community. This position is just not for Black people, It is just not for Hispanics. It’s for everybody.”

City Councillor Calvin Brown, co-sponsor of the original motion, said he was not aware that “the next step would be to invest another $20,000 to bring someone in to tell us what candidates we need go after.” That comment by Brown would lead one to believe that the popular councillor was leaning toward an in-house selection committee as opposed to hiring a search firm.

But no decision was made on the matter – and the process for selecting a person for a position that everyone agrees is vital to Chelsea – continues.

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