Hamilton moves ahead with city manager hiring despite calls for more diversity

The head of Hamilton's largest women's organization says the city is being "extremely troubling" by ignoring calls to add more minorities and women to the hiring panel for its top job.
Denise Christopherson, YWCA executive director, and Karen Bird, a McMaster University political scientist, say city council needs to add members to the committee choosing a future city manager. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The head of Hamilton's largest women's organization says it is "extremely troubling" council is ignoring calls to add more minorities and women to the hiring panel for the city's top job.

Denise Christopherson, executive director of Hamilton's YWCA, says she's disturbed that city councillors are pushing the city manager hiring process along, even though diversity advocates have asked them to stop.

Right now, city council is nearly half women, but only one councillor on the five-member hiring panel is female. And none of them are people of colour, despite Nrinder Nann (Ward 3, central lower city) expressing interest.

Maureen Wilson (Ward 1, west end) planned to move a motion next week to add to the hiring committee. But the committee has interviews lined up for Saturday in Niagara-on-the-Lake anyway — four days before Wilson gets the chance. Nann tried a motion Wednesday to postpone the interviews, but that failed 11-3.

"The committee has proceeded without even hearing this motion, and that is extremely troubling to me," Christopherson said.

Nrinder Nann represents Ward 3. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Christopherson says she's been trying for years to get city council to look at issues like this. And it still doesn't seem to be listening.

"If we're going to do things differently then we're going to have to start asking questions," she said.

Christopherson wasn't the only one concerned at city council's general issues committee Wednesday. Karen Bird, a McMaster University political scientist who specializes in gender and equity, and Kojo Damptey from the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion presented too. So did several residents.

Bird said she's "surprised and disturbed" councillors don't get equity and inclusion training. Understanding other cultures, genders, sexual orientations and backgrounds makes for a better interview, she said.

The presentations got awkward when some councillors argued having daughters made them experts in women's issues.

Lloyd Ferguson (Ward 12, Ancaster) said he has three daughters, and "there's no better training than being a parent." 

Chris Murray, Hamilton's most recent city manager, took a job in Toronto last year.

"I think I understand diversity issues. I think I understand women's rights," said Ferguson, who once inspired protest when he asked if sundresses deter women from cycling.

The notion that he doesn't, he said, is "a little unnerving."

The recruitment group is comprised of Mayor Fred Eisenberger and the chairs of four council committees (Ferguson, Chad Collins, Sam Merulla and Maria Pearson). Terry Whitehead (Ward 14, west Mountain) said those politicians were reelected handily last year, and have decades of experience.

If someone wanted to be on the recruitment committee, Whitehead said, "they need to put their names forward and earn the support of their colleagues and earn their spot as chair."

Whitehead said who sits on the committee — or council in general — should be based on merit and not "identity politics." The discussion, he said, "concerns me."

"Maybe it's my unconscious … what do you call it again? Unconscious bias?" he said, referencing Bird's presentation. 

He said Nann and Wilson had committed procedural errors with the issue, and their efforts were done "on the back of a napkin at the eleventh hour."

Merulla (Ward 4, east end) told Bird he wants to understand how he's biased. His family is mostly female, he said, and most of his pre-politics coworkers were too.

The city is using a hiring consultant with diversity experience, he said. "It's not like we threw resumes down the stairs" and picked four or five.

Nann said it's not about pointing fingers, but to continuously look at how the city can improve. 

"This is not to go into a cycle of blame and shame," she said.

"Everybody's experience is a valid experience. Nobody's denying that."

The city is hiring a new top manager after Chris Murray took a job as Toronto's city manager last year. Mike Zegarac, the city's head of finance, has been acting city manager.

How they voted

Who voted in favour of Nrinder Nann's proposal to postpone candidate interviews

Maureen Wilson (Ward 1), Nann (3), John Paul-Danko (8)

Who was opposed

Jason Farr (2), Sam Merulla (4), Chad Collins (5), Esther Pauls (7), Brad Clark (9), Maria Pearson (10), Brenda Johnson (11), Lloyd Ferguson (12), Arlene VanderBeek (13), Terry Whitehead (14), Mayor Fred Eisenberger

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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