Albany Activist Calls For Civil Service Commission Accountability

Nov 18, 2013

Credit wikimedia

For years, the city of Albany has promised to increase the number of minorities in the fire department. But many, including one local activist, say little progress has been made.

Outgoing Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings made headlines after he intervened in a case involving an African-American man who was disqualified from a firefighting job on what some call "ridiculously trivial grounds."

According to public documents, 27-year old Lewis Wood was disqualified by the city's Municipal Civil Service Commission.  Alice Green is the Executive Director of the Center for Law and Justice in Albany. She says the commission based its decision on a letter from a detective with the Albany Police Department's Office of Professional Services, the agency that assesses firefighter candidates. Kathleen Hendrick, that detective, was not available for comment.

Wood appealed the decision, which allowed him to have a hearing before the Civil Service Commission. Green describes the process as "unbelievable."

That “poor moral character” excuse was eventually dropped but the “deceit” stuck, until Times Union reporter Alysia Santo wrote an article about the case. Mayor Jennings read it and stepped in. He called the ruling against Wood an injustice, counterproductive to the city’s efforts to recruit more minorities.  Santo was surprised.  The word "deceit" took an interesting turn:  Wood was never interviewed.

Alice Green would like to see city policies examined more closely, especially as the city transitions to a new administration in city hall.   Mayor Jennings was not available for comment, but told the newspaper his decision to intervene  “...was the right thing to do...”  Jennings added, “We have been trying to recruit minorities for years, and when something like this occurs, it’s counterproductive.”

Wood says he's happy to be back on the list of candidates.