By Opio Lumumba Sokoni, MSCJ, JD
The Florida/Georgia Star
The City of Atlantic Beach has a race problem as it relates to hiring and advancement that is the same as if not worse than what we have learned about JEA. The city and its EEOC department also has its head stuck in the sand on these matters. The hostile environment has festered for many years and without relief. The City’s Mayor Mitchell E. Reeves, its former city manager Nelson Van Liere, as well as its current temporary city manager Kevin Hogencamp have all been informed about the racial issues to no avail. It seems that informing all white males about the racism of white males is a non-starter no matter how egregious and how long the issues have taken place.
Many know the pride that citizens in the small coastal town take in the mixed racial community. At the end of Mayport Road is a naval based that is part responsible for the mix racial make-up of the majority white town. The official data of the City of Atlantic Beach, based on the 2010 Census, was 7 The racial makeup of the City of Atlantic Beach, based on the 2010 Census, was 79.2 percent White, 10.8 percent Black, 5.4 percent Hispanic and Latino, 1.9 percent Asian and 2.7 percent Other. Local media, such as The Beaches Leader and The Florida Times Union have also been made aware of these issues but have not done reporting on the matter. So, it may be that the good citizens of Atlantic Beach do not know what is going on within their government. One would think that the two EEOC complaints that currently sits on a desk there would get the city leaders moving.
The EEOC head Cathy Berry, who is also an attorney, seems to not care enough. It is said that she have told those blacks who have brought complaints to her that she does not have time for them. On one occasion, she told a union steward that she did not think his complaint was serious. She also told Ronnie M. Burris, the Business Manager of L.I.U.N.A. Local 630 whose job it is to represent the union workers, that she has heard the complaints but there is no proof.
Cathy Berry, an attorney, is also the head of Human Resources told Burris that she was unaware that Public Works Management did not contact Human Resources or let her department know that they promoted a white male over a black male who was qualified. The black worker was told that he did not qualify. Blacks being told that they do not qualify for promotions or a new position seems to be standard. They are also often told that they did not filled out the application properly.
Workers in the Public Works department who identify as black seem to have endured a hostile environment without resolve or support. “The last grievance hearing held, a supervisor held it and did it when the steward was off, so management (2 whites) outnumbered the black grievant,” wrote Burris in his email to the City Manager this year.
Sometimes what is reported by the black workers is shocking. For instance, workers were throwing mud and sticks in one job they were doing. Some mud accidentally got on one of the supervisors – Scott Williams. He told the black workers, “What are you trying to do make me look like you, brother?”
The Chief Steward reported this to the Director of Public Works, Donald D. Jacobovitz. The director told the Chief Steward that an apology was made and that is the end of it. There were three supervisors there who witnessed this incident – Scott Williams, who made the statement, Kayle Moore and Chris Huffman.
In an email to the temporary city manager, Supervisor Chris Huffman was the subject of a racist remark. In the parking lot at City Hall, Huffman told Burris, who is white, that “he would never like his Chief Steward because he has a loud mouth and is Black.”
The last Black male to be hired in administration took place about 25 years ago. He is now a supervisor and is the lowest paid supervisor. He is also unable to receive advancement or higher pay because of some interesting maneuvering. There are no black women that work for the city other than 1 cop. The last black woman was there for less than a year. It seems that she remains, temporarily, contracted to do accounting work. Before her, Mrs. Delois Griffin was the only black female to work for the City of Atlantic Beach. She retired long ago and is now in her 80s. She has stories of racism within the government there as well.
There are also stories of Hispanics being called “rice eaters” and being made fun of by telling them that immigration is outside. Another black worker, who seems to be more qualified than most of the workers in Public Works, was told that his job was to watch intersections. This seems equivalent to telling a new person to go fetch a bucket of steam. But, this is seriously what he was told to do – without any further description of what to do or why he was to watch intersections from a city truck.
When counting the denied opportunities and lack of advancements that the City of Atlantic Beach’s black workers as a group have not realized due to this good ole boy system, it is over $1.7 million dollars.
It is reported that when asked when was the last time a black person received Employee of the Quarter, no one seemed to know that answer. The answer may be never. When counting the denied opportunities and lack of advancements that the City of Atlantic Beach’s black workers as a group have not realized due to this good ole boy system, it is over $1.7 million dollars. This is how certain groups stay in poverty. This can mean the difference in whether a daughter or son can go to college or camp each summer. It can also mean purchasing a new home to create generational wealth. This type of income realized can also be the difference between poverty and a decent living.
Poverty is the biggest connection to crime and despair. So, this money is by default placed into a police budget to fight crime on the other end or into related health expenses respectively. But as equally important, when people go to work and know that racial stress awaits them, it creates blocks in their heads that bleeds over into other parts of their lives – especially when their grievances are not heard, not taken seriously or can result in not getting a much-needed pay increase. The citizens of the City of Atlantic Beach may now feel that they live in a town that is not as loving and progressive as they thought.
When asked about a good solution to this matter, Burris says that all the supervisors should be fired and replaced (maybe except for the one that gets paid the least). This may be the only solution but it takes those who are offended by what these black workers are going through to make this a reality. Too often, some whites do not like to talk about racism and often do not feel the pain of those going through this type of harm and hurt. Racist supervisors, when faced with these types of public allegations, usually seek advice then go on to double down and find sneaky ways to make the lives of the black workers an even bigger hell. What some of the black workers may fear is a concerted effort by city leaders and supervisors to strategically fire them for going public – replaced by other black workers. Who is going to stand up for these workers and make Atlantic Beach a better place for them?