The controversy surrounding the Gerald Alston/Paul Pender case in Brookline has raised legitimate concerns about whether all citizens, regardless of their race, creed, age, sex, sexual preference, gender, and origin of birth, are given an equal opportunity to work in Brookline, and are treated as equals once they are employed here.

We talked with Sandra DeBow-Huang, Brookline’s Director of Human Resources since 2006, to find out what progress Brookline has made on her watch.

According to Sandra, “When I came to Brookline, one of my main objectives was to implement an HRIS system.” An HRIS, also known as a human resource information system or human resource management system (HRMS), is basically an intersection of human resources and information technology through HR software. This allows HR activities and processes to occur electronically.

According to DeBow, “My other main objective was to ensure employees were treated similarly with respect and dignity regardless of their background.”

In 2008, Sandra set out to build a succession plan to create a diverse pipeline to replace an aging workforce. She paid particular attention to providing better and more diverse job candidates for the senior manager and department head positions.

DeBow received a charge from the Board of Selectmen in 2009 to compile an annual report on the Town’s efforts “to realize the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King.” She began writing reports on Workplace Inclusion and Diversity. The first report was published in March 2011. The fourth report will be published soon.

One major step DeBow took to fulfill her vision of ensuring all employees in Brookline were treated equally was to expand the town’s sexual harassment policy, which HR followed for all instances of discrimination in the workplace, and change it into a more comprehensive model that covered all harassment/discrimination claims. She attempted to collaborate with the Human Relations department but it didn’t work out. She also encountered political interference. The point of contention was the affirmative action policy, which Human Relations was charged with maintaining. The Affirmative Action plan had been written in 1974 and last updated in 1994. The outdated plan was based on an existing court-ordered Consent Decree which many municipalities were under at the time and followed state procedures that are no longer in effect.

Debow wanted Brookline to have it’s own Equal Employment Opportunity policy unique to Brookline and its recruitment and secession planning goals. After years of working on it, Human Resources produced Brookline’s Policy Against Discrimination, Sexual Harassment and Retaliation, which was incorporated by the Town in late 2010.

Along with developing a specific Anti-discrimination policy in 2010, Sandra invited the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination training staff to educate all town supervisors from October to December 2010 on the state discrimination law. All Brookline department heads and 175 supervisors were provided policy and discrimination training and awareness classes. The departments were integrated in the sessions so departments could share their different perspectives and could build alliances and learn from one another. Debow commented, “We would ask training attendees how many protected classes did they think they belonged too. Most people belong to at least eight.”

Human Resources also sent two staff members to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination trainer program. The Fire Department integrated Anti-Discrimination training into its Academy curriculum.

Debow: “We were been told by MCAD that claims would go up after our policy went into place. It didn’t happen. However, there was heightened awareness among the supervisors.” The Office of Diversity Inclusion and Community Relations, headed by Lloyd Gellineau, is now responsible for spearheading this policy with consultation from HR and the DICR Commission.

One big change in hiring during Sandra DeBow-Huang’s tenure is that non-public safety personnel (Police and Fire) hiring is no longer restricted to the Civil Servants list, which has allowed Brookline to greatly expand its recruiting base and efforts. This was the result of a 2006 study done by the Human Resources Board. Town Meeting voted to remove Brookline from civil service, except for public safety personnel, effective in May 2010.

Brookline Fire and Police must still be hired off the Civil Servants List. Brookline has a “Brookline Preference,” meaning employees must live in Brookline for one year prior to hire. Candidates come from a diversely mixed pool. Brookline Police will recruit people and in some instances advise them to take an apartment with other recruits so they can be eligible for hire. The town works with BHS and Steps to Success to help in the recruitment of diverse candidates. The town encourages minorities to apply and Fire, Police and DPW have a particularly good record in this regard. In one situation, a minority candidate failed the background investigation and/or interview two times and the town mentored the individual so that he met the minimal requirement. He is now a productive employee.

A lot has been done by the town of Brookline to increase opportunities for all in the last decade. It’s clear that under the direction of Sandra DeBow-Haung and others like her, progress will continue.

R. Harvey Bravman, Publisher