Florida's top elected female executive was adamant in a Cabinet meeting last month: The state should be more diligent about hiring minorities as parole commissioners because they make important decisions about a population over-represented by minorities.
No one disagreed. But Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, fellow Cabinet officers and the governor aren't setting the best example when it comes to diversity in hiring.
A St. Petersburg Times survey of the top staffers in the offices of Sink, Gov. Charlie Crist, Attorney General Bill McCollum and Agricultural Commissioner Charles Bronson show less than 9 percent of their top staff are minorities. Women account for 43 percent, though they are concentrated in lower-paying posts.
With Barack Obama or Sarah Palin about to break the glass ceiling of presidential politics, the Times survey shows a lack of racial diversity serving Florida's top officials.
And minorities appear to have lost ground across state government's senior management, according to the most recent work force study available. In late 2006, minorities accounted for 13 percent of senior managers, down from 15 percent in 1999. Women in the same period gained ground, moving from 32 percent to 39 percent of senior managers.
The losses in minority managers occurred while the state grew more diverse. Nearly two out of every five Floridians are nonwhite, according to 2006 census estimates. Among those qualified to work as senior managers in state government, minorities account for 22 percent, up from 17 percent in 1999, according to state records.
Those numbers also match the years of Gov. Jeb Bush's administration, when he discarded affirmative action in his departments and replaced it with a voluntary diversity effort. Currently, there is no formal diversity effort in the executive branch, but state law bans discrimination, said Department of Management Services spokeswoman Linda McDonald.
Advocates of diversity say it increases workplace efficiency, as people with different backgrounds bring different ideas to problem solving.
"While being diverse is socially responsible, it also enhances the bottom line," said Helene Elting, associate management professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.
Gov. Charlie Crist
Crist hired African-Americans to run his Corrections and Juvenile Justice departments and his work force agency.
He has courted black voters, prompting state Rep. Terry Fields, a black Democrat from Jacksonville, to dub Crist "the first black governor."
But in his executive office, the only minority employee among 22 top staffers is a Hispanic, general counsel Jason Gonzales. Half of the staff is female.
By comparison, in 2005, Bush's executive office had more women, 18 of 32 (or 56 percent), and more minorities, six of 32 (19 percent).
Faced with the numbers, Crist acknowledged he had more to do to encourage diversity.
"That's an ongoing effort, I think, that's very important. … I'm very proud of the appointments that we've made. I've made a concerted effort to be positive in that direction," Crist said. "It's never enough, as you know. But I'm trying. I'm trying to do better."
CFO Alex Sink
Sink is the only Democrat in the Cabinet and has pushed for diversity when it comes to Cabinet-appointed commissioners.
Her office employs three minorities (12.5 percent) and 10 women (42 percent) among 24 top jobs. She inherited a staff from Tom Gallagher that was mostly male. In 2005, women held nine of his top 35 jobs (26 percent) and minorities held five (14 percent).
Sink said she wanted to give existing employees an opportunity to "prove themselves and show me what they can do. The process has been a little bit slower here, but I'm still working on building more diversity."
Attorney General Bill McCollum
McCollum said that he generally thinks it's more important to hire the best people regardless of race or gender but that sometimes "there is some thought that goes into" diversity hiring.
At the end of August, McCollum employed two minorities (8 percent) and 12 women (48 percent) among 25 top staff. When Crist ran that office in 2005, two minorities (9 percent) and 9 women (41 percent) were among 22 senior managers.
Earlier this month, McCollum hired Danille Carroll, who is African-American, to head his civil rights division and said he felt fortunate to get someone of her background and experience.
"I don't try to recruit minorities, but for civil rights, I did, because I think it's important for that job," McCollum said.
Commissioner Charles Bronson
Bronson's office is the least diverse. But he's the only Cabinet member with a female chief of staff, Terry Rhodes.
Bronson employs two minorities and eight women (a third of top staff) among 24 positions. "I try to find the best people, if more of them end up being women or minorities, so be it," he said, noting agriculture doesn't generally attract women and minorities.
His staff includes the same number of minorities but twice as many women as in 2001, the year before he took office.
Times staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.