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El Centro officials quizzed on hiring practices, other issues

May 18, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

City officials were peppered with questions about hiring practices and a long-awaited fire station during the third and final community meeting Thursday.

Former city Fire Chief Albert Newton asked fire and police officials why there are not more black firefighters and black police officers on the forces.

City Fire Marshal Linual White said there was at one time a significant push to hire more black firefighters to make the department reflect the community.

"We've continued to do that, though not as aggressively as before," he said, adding that the department is developing several programs to increase local hiring, including entry-level positions. "I am in agreement with you that the Fire Department does not totally reflect the community."

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Police Chief Raymond Loera said he agreed with Newton, that recruitment has not been as good as it could be for hiring black officers. In addition, he said few people want to be police officers these days.

"That's not an excuse, it's a hardship," Loera said, adding it is also difficult to retain outsiders in the Valley.

Loera invited Newton and others to meet with him at any time to further discuss their concerns on how to recruit more black officers.

The discussion then turned toward fire stations. Former City Councilman Henry Alarcón asked when the city was going to build more stations in light of the growing population.

Said Mayor Cheryl Walker: "I have a one-word answer, and that is money."

Walker said the problem is more than just spending money to build the station.

"It's the ongoing expense of having the staff there all of the time," she said. "We are watching the pattern of growth in the city to determine where the station should be."

City Manager Abdel Salem said a minimum of 12 firefighters are required to staff a new station at a cost of $500,000 yearly.

He said the city does not have the money to do everything everybody would like, and since the state began taking more local money in 1995, the city has lost $4 million. He further invited the public to attend an upcoming city budget workshop at 6 p.m. June 6 at the city library and give input on what the city's spending priorities should be.

When asked to give an update on some of the projects long discussed, Walker said the municipal golf course idea is dead, the skate park is moving forward, the senior center is dead and the bowling alley is in the hanEl Centro officialds of private parties.

The purpose of the three meetings was for city officials to meet with the community and discuss common issues of concern. Presentations were made by Fire Marshal White, Police Chief Loera, Redevelopment Agency Assistant Executive Director Oscar Rodriquez and RDA economic development specialist Marty Tracey.

When it was over Walker said the idea of the meetings was a great one, and she praised city staff for its efforts.

"I am surprised and disappointed that more people didn't take advantage of this opportunity," she said, adding perhaps her hopes and expectations were too high.

About 25 people attended Thursday's meeting.

Councilman Larry Grogan said the outreach effort was "excellent" and a great way to find out what the community is thinking.

Staff Writer Rudy Yniguez can be reached at 337-3440.

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