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Boards lack balance in race and gender

Black people are virtually non-existent on city advisory boards unless those boards deal with discrimination, public housing, low-income issues or the largely black North Greenwood area.

Eleven of 16 volunteer boards that give city commissioners feedback on residents' opinions about city projects don't have any black members.

The volunteer boards also are more than two-thirds male. Of 132 commission-appointed members on the 16 boards, only 43 are women.

The only two boards with a majority of women are the Beautification Committee and the Historic Preservation Board.

Whatever power the boards wield also is concentrated in three areas of the city. If you take a look at the 11 all-white boards, you'll find that more than half of the members come from three small areas: the beach and Island Estates; south of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard near Belcher Road, near the Morningside-Meadows neighborhoods; and at Drew Street and Highland Avenue, in and around Hillcrest Park.

Commissioners seemed surprised this week when they were told how the boards shake out. But the imbalances haven't gone unnoticed by everyone.

"I was pretty much sure that was the case," said the Rev. Lucius Pitts, who is black.

Pitts planned to run for City Commission but didn't collect enough valid voter signatures to qualify.

One of Pitts' campaign issues was equal representation on city boards.

"Not just for minorities," he said, "but all areas of the city should be represented."

"Volunteer' doesn't

always mean variety

City commissioners can't explain how the boards they appoint got the way they are. They say they aren't trying to discriminate, but they have to choose from the people who apply.

According to 1990 census figures, there are about 9,000 black people in Clearwater. About 54 percent of the city's 100,000 residents are women.

But applicants for board positions tend to be white, male and from certain areas of the city.

Why?

"They volunteer the most," said Commissioner Dick Fitzgerald, who is white and lives in Countryside.

Some commissioners and board members suggest that some areas have more volunteers because they have active homeowners groups. Or perhaps the neighborhoods are more politically and civically active. Or they're part of well-established, old Clearwater.

Some communities have many retirees with time to volunteer. And people already on committees encourage their friends and neighbors to sign up.

Members might tend to be white men, some commissioners and board members suggest, because they are more established in the work place and able to take time away during the day to attend board meetings.

And, they say, the ones who get on boards are the ones who show an interest. There may just be more white men who are interested.

Out of a city of about 100,000 people, the city clerk's office this week has only 31 applications from people who want to be on city boards.

Those applications follow the established trend. For the most part, they're white men. Many of the applicants live in one of those three areas.

The city has no organized recruiting program. At commission meetings and at the four town meetings each year, commissioners remind residents that the city needs volunteers.

Some homeowners associations, the Chamber of Commerce, the League of Women Voters and other groups encourage their members to apply.

Sometimes a commissioner will even seek out someone he or she thinks would be particularly good for a board.

More must be done, Fitzgerald said.

"We ought to assure we have a balanced mix of all kinds of people from all areas of the city," he said. "We need probably to do a better job of encouraging folks to get involved."

The answer may be to recruit more heavily, getting the word out to a larger, more widespread and diverse group of people, said Commissioner Sue Berfield, who is white and lives near the intersection of Sunset Point Road and Patricia Avenue.

"I don't think we should go out and spend thousands of dollars," she said. "The networking is available. We just need to figure out how to do it."

Some contend that no matter how much recruiting is done, the people who want to serve will make time and the others will make excuses.

Meetings are inconveniently scheduled. Work doesn't allow it. Family or recreation takes up too much time for volunteering.

Board work is time-consuming and often controversial, said Commissioner Bill Nunamaker, who is white and lives in Island Estates. "Just to volunteer and then to get chewed up for it. You say "Why do this?' "

Balancing qualifications

and representation

More than 14 percent of city employees are black, according to the city's affirmative action office. That's 259 black workers out of 1,804.

If you just look at percentages, it seems as though the racial mix of commission appointments to volunteer boards is comparable.

More than 15 percent of the 132 board members are black.

But 19 of the 20 black members are clustered on four boards:

The North Greenwood Design Review Committee, which reviews building plans and sign requests. Most members must be residents or business people in the largely black neighborhood;

The Community Relations Board, which sometimes hears discrimination cases and promotes good neighborhood relations;

The Housing Authority, which provides rent subsidies and public housing;

And the Neighborhood Advisory Committee, which deals with federally financed programs for low-income people. Members are chosen from target areas.

The fifth board with a black member is the Airport Authority, which has four white men and one black woman. The men were nominated by the League of Women Voters, the Chamber of Commerce, the Clearwater Pilots Association and the City Commission.

The woman represents the neighborhood around Clearwater Executive Airpark.

The 11 all-white city boards advise commissioners on everything from the budget to parks to the library to environmental projects. Some are even quasi-judicial, determining whether city rules have been broken and passing judgment on issues that affect how businesses operate or what residents build.

Black people have been on many of these boards in the past, just as the mix of men and women has fluctuated over the years.

Fitzgerald said the city needs to make more of an effort to recruit black people for some different boards.

"Maybe we haven't gone out and talked about the other boards . . . that someone might have an interest in," he said.

But some people aren't sure the makeup of most boards makes much of a difference as long as the members are qualified and fair-minded.

"I would say that it would be good for the boards to be balanced racially," said Commissioner Lee Regulski, who is white and lives in Morningside Estates. But it would depend on the person who applied.

Regulski said he looks for the best-qualified person for each board. For instance, for the quasi-judicial Municipal Code Enforcement Board, he wants someone who is "level-headed, unbiased, open-minded" and "unemotional," and who has a technical background to fit.

For the Parks and Recreation Board, he said, he might prefer a woman who has children and is interested the recreational facilities the city can offer.

"Whether they're male or female, black or white doesn't matter if they have the qualifications," Regulski said.

Nunamaker had similar thoughts.

"I don't think race has anything to do with it one way or another. Beautification is beautification, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

Having black members and white members, men and women hasn't made much difference to the work of the Housing Authority, said chairman Howard Groth, who is white.

"Even when Mr. (Ernest) Carson was the only black on the board, I never found us having a problem solving the problems of public housing," said Groth, who has been on the authority 12 years. "Our decisions have basically been the same. The racial or male-female mix has never made a difference."

But authority member Lucille Clemons, who is black, said she believes the board gets a valuable mix of suggestions and ideas because of its racial and gender mix. She represents Condon Gardens residents, and she has found that it's sometimes more comfortable for people with problems to talk resident to resident, woman to woman, black person to black person.

Others agree with her.

"I think it would be good if we had some black representation on all the boards," said the Rev. Walter Campbell, president of the Clearwater-Upper Pinellas chapter of the NAACP. "A person's input can make a difference."

Mayor Rita Garvey, who is white and lives near the intersection of Drew Street and Highland Avenue, said black people and women bring a different perspective to a board.

"It would be a good goal for boards to reflect that," she said.

Black people need someone to stand up for them on city boards, said Ervin Harris of Ervin's All American Youth Club. And black children need to see strong black adults participating in city government so they will have role models.

"People themselves must be about doing the right thing," said Harris, who is black. "The right thing to do is making sure we have equal representation."

Matching interest

to inclination

Again, commissioners said, it comes back to the problem of getting people to serve.

"I don't have any volunteers from that area," Garvey said.

Garvey recruited board members from North Greenwood a couple of years ago. "It obviously sounds like we need to go back and do it again," she said.

All the commissioners said it's hard to find black residents for city boards, even those that directly affect North Greenwood.

"We had a devil of a time getting people to volunteer," Fitzgerald said. "It was like pulling teeth to get somebody to devote the time and interest."

North Greenwood has at least one resident who's more than willing to serve.

Lois Martin says she has been trying to get on the Planning and Zoning Board since the early 1970s.

She has been appointed to the Neighborhood Advisory Committee and the Community Relations Board.

In 1989, she put in an application asking to be put on Planning and Zoning, Community Relations, the Development Code Adjustment Board or the Housing Authority. She was appointed to the North Greenwood Design Review Committee.

"That was just about the biggest nothing," she said, "because unless somebody is putting up a sign, you didn't do anything."

The board has not met in nine or 10 months.

Most of the seven men on the Planning and Zoning Board have either a technical or business background. But chairman Ed Mazur said Friday that he doesn't believe that's mandatory.

"It will take someone (who hasn't any background) six months to figure out what's happening," he said. "But that doesn't mean when that's over, that they won't make a very good member of the board."

A former NAACP president, Mrs. Martin ran unsuccessfully in the late 1970s for City Commission. She has a master's degree in education and taught for five years in Central Harlem in New York City. She was director of Girls Clubs for CETA in St. Petersburg and Clearwater, and has worked with Ervin's All American Youth Club.

There should be a black person on the zoning board, Mrs. Martin said.

"It affects many people. Zoning is very important," she said. "I don't think people on the beach, in Morningside or East Clearwater should have all the power over other areas of the city."

If the city really wanted more diverse boards, it could have them, the Rev. Pitts said.

"It's not that difficult to find people," he said. "It's not hard to find African-Americans when it comes time to vote. Then they know where the, quote, prominent African-Americans live."

People often don't apply because they don't know about boards and if they did, they wouldn't know how to get on them, he said. The city needs to show them how to make that first step.

If the city does, he said, it might get a pleasant surprise.

"I think," he said, "you're going to find a lot of African-Americans coming forward and saying, "I'd love to serve. I've never been asked before.' "

What the numbers show

The following boards represent residents on projects and issues citywide. The city has no guidelines that call for selection of these boards' members by neighborhood, race or gender.

Members Male Female Blacks

Budget Advisory Committee 5 4 1 0

Beautification Committee 9 4 5 0

Development Code Adjustment Board 5 4 1 0

Environmental Advisory Committee 9 7 2 0

Historic Preservation Board 5 1 4 0

Library Board 11 6 5 0

Marine Advisory Board 7 7 0 0

Municipal Code Enforcement Board 7 6 1 0

Parks and Recreation Board 9 5 4 0

Planning and Zoning Board 7 7 0 0

Maas Brothers Task Force 15 10 5 0

Total 89 61 28 0

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