Albemarle County Office Building

The Albemarle County Office Building

Albemarle County is working to make its local government staff more representative of the county population.

According to the county’s Human Resources Department annual report for fiscal year 2018, the percentage of employees who self-identify as a member of an ethnic minority group has decreased slightly from 15.7 percent in FY17 to 14.6 percent in FY18.

According to American Community Survey data, about 22.8 percent of Albemarle residents are a member of an ethnic minority group.

The county’s human resources director, Lorna Gerome, said her department is consistently evaluating the county staff demographics.

“You have to keep an eye on that and not just look at what is our breakdown, but do we have good representation in all departments, at supervisory and leadership levels,” she said.

The county currently has an opening for a recruitment and diversity coordinator in the HR department, which had a diversity and inclusion generalist, Willis Harris, but he left earlier this year.

“We’re really looking for somebody that has the HR knowledge, as well as an understanding and awareness of the diversity and inclusion work,” Gerome said.

Harris had focused on working with public safety and recruitment efforts in those departments.

“We’re trying to broaden our thoughts about where do we go to recruit and how do we build interest in the county as an employer and an employer that is an inclusive employer,” Gerome said.

County Police Chief Ron Lantz said he helped to build a new recruitment team when he became chief, and he wanted it to be diverse.

“I didn’t want everybody looking like me going into diverse neighborhoods recruiting,” he said.

Instead of only going to job fairs, Lantz said it was important to reach out through other ways, like universities.

“Going to job fairs, it’s not as good to going to [a university], make a contact with their criminal justice program and say, ‘Hey, we’d like to come in and speak with your class,’” he said.

The department meets with the African American Pastors Council and holds a bimonthly breakfast with the group, and it also worked with Harris on recruitment efforts.

Lantz said the police department recently had the most diverse class of graduating officers in the six years he’s been here, with three female officers and one African-American officer. He said they were all “homegrown” — from Albemarle or surrounding localities.

“I’m finding when we recruit folks like that, they have more of a tendency to stay, as opposed to somebody from Tidewater or somewhere,” Lantz said. “They get homesick and they want to go back.”

As of June, the police department had 173 total employees, and 8.7 percent self-identified as part of a minority group, according to the HR report.

“It’s better than it was, but it’s still not where I want it to be,” he said.

The county recently created an Office of Equity & Inclusion to focus on strengthening community partnerships and on institutional equity within the county government. Siri Russell, formerly the county’s manager for policy development and special programs, was appointed director of the new office.

“We’ll be looking a lot at partnering with Siri because she’ll be doing work in the community, so I think there’s a natural tie-in there,” Gerome said. “We have a lot of work; I’m excited about it though.”

The county also continues to work through a “silver tsunami” as baby boomers continue to age and retire.

According to the report, 28 general government county employees retired in FY18, including the assistant county executive and the director of finance. An additional 61 employees left employment with the county.

“We’re really working with department heads to identify where there might be staff that hold institutional knowledge and develop plans to help other employees get opportunities to build leadership skills as well as share the knowledge,” Gerome said. “You have to be intentional about that to make it happen.”

The county’s chief of housing, Ron White, and director of community development, Mark Graham, already have announced that they will retire in the next year.

Stacy Pethia, the county’s principal planner for housing, started working with the county earlier this month and ultimately will take over White’s work. Recruitment efforts for the next director of community development have already started.

“That’s an ideal situation, when someone gives you plenty of notice and time to prepare,” Gerome said. “You can do the recruitment and you can get someone on board that has the right skills then get them trained and ready to go. We’re not always that fortunate.”

In FY18, many county leadership positions were filled through external searches or internal promotions including the county executive, economic development director, assistant county executive, chief financial officer and the director of a new Project Management Office.

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Allison Wrabel is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact her at (434) 978-7261, or @craftypanda on Twitter.

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