More women and ethnic minorities would be fighting crime and fire in Salt Lake County if they could appeal to the same tribunal other county employees do, members of a discrimination panel say.
But Sheriff N.D. Hayward and County Fire Chief Larry Hinman say they are solving equal-employment problems as best they can, and a different appeal process would make no difference.Surrounded by an entourage of uniformed and plain-clothes officers and administrators, they challenged commissioners to show where the system is failing.
Commissioners hope to decide soon whether to combine the Career Service Council, which hears grievances from county employees, with the Public Safety Commission, which hears grievances from deputies and firefighters. Both are composed of independent arbitrators selected by the commission.
The proposal, one of several recommendations made by a discrimination panel last year, has angered Hayward and Hinman. Voters chose to create the Public Safety Council more than 25 years ago, and it would be unfair to them if the commission changed things, Hayward said.
Both men said they are tired of being accused of discrimination. Hayward said he recruits women and minorities from college campuses.
"Our problem is we have certain standards that an officer has to meet," he said. "We don't allow people with criminal records or who have lifestyles that don't conform to our standards. A lot of our college recruits are washed out on background checks."
Officials said eight women currently are working as deputy sheriffs, and 23 women work in the jail. Only one firefighter is a woman.
Hayward lashed out at the discrimination panel for keeping witnesses and details of its findings confidential.
"We don't want to go around hearing innuendos about this office," he said.
The panel was created by county commissioners after several employees alleged they were victims of sexual abuse and harassment. The most publicized case led to the resignation of County Attorney Ted Cannon. The panel interviewed about 100 employees under the condition that names would remain confidential.
Virginia Kelson, panel leader, said Monday that many employees told the panel they believe they are treated differently because of the two systems.
Kelson said the Public Safety Commission sets its own rules, unlike the Career Service Council, which follows rules set by the county's personnel division. Women and members of ethnic minorities can appeal to the Public Safety Commission if they are turned down for a job as a deputy or firefighter.