By Michael D’Onofrio
PHILADELPHIA — Legislators are aiming to nix a rule they say thwarts Black and brown city employees from moving up the ranks.
Members of City Council took up a proposed resolution to eliminate the so-called “rule of two” that regulates the filling of city civil service vacancies and promotions by limiting the eligibility pool to the two candidates with the highest scores on examinations and assessments, such as a standardized test.
The proposal would task the city’s director of personnel to determine a new candidate pool limit, as well as specify the number of times a city employee can be passed over when seeking a promotion or filling a vacancy, and how long they can remain eligible for them.
The resolution, which was introduced on Thursday, would give voters the final say on the proposal through a referendum vote in order to change the Home Rule Charter.
The resolution will need 12 votes on City Council in order for the question to be posed to voters. Eleven legislators sponsored the resolution. Council President Darrell Clarke also supports the proposal.
Councilmember Cherelle Parker, the main sponsor of the resolution, said that the so-called rule of two disadvantaged people of color seeking employment with the city and that similar-sized cities consider broader candidate pools than Philadelphia.
Parker said the proposal could increase the diversity of candidate pools and help more people of color be considered for city promotions.
“When it comes to promotions, because the pipeline is usually filled with white males in many of the departments, the odds favor them taking the next step up that ladder,” Parker said.
The so-called rule of two was added to the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter in the 1950s. The city’s workforce is approximately 30,000 and is overwhelmingly made up of civil service jobs.
Although African Americans hold the largest share of city jobs, they have failed to make inroads into higher-paying, senior-level positions, according to the city’s 2020 Workforce Diversity Profile and Annual Report. The report was limited to jobs under the purview of the executive branch through June 2020.
African Americans accounted for nearly 37 percent of the senior leadership positions, which include Kenney’s cabinet members, department heads and commissioners, according to the report. When it came to the city’s executive workforce, or those making at least $90,000, African Americans accounted for 32.4 percent of those jobs, whereas whites held 54.7 percent of them.
African Americans accounted for 48.2% of the city’s 24,633 jobs under the purview of the mayor’s office. Whites held 39.4 percent of the jobs, followed by Hispanics and Latinx at 6.8 percent and Asians at 3.7 percent, according to the report.
As for the city’s 1,722 non-civil service jobs, known as the exempt workforce, whites accounted for the largest share (46 percent), followed by African Americans (35.9 percent), Hispanics and Latinx (7.5 percent), and Asians (6.7%), according to the report.
The city’s population is approximately 40 percent African American, 34 percent white, 15 percent Hispanic or Latino, 7 percent Asian, and 4 percent of other races and ethnicities, according to U.S. Census data.
The proposal has the backing of Mayor Jim Kenney, according to a news release from Parker’s office.
“By expanding this rule, we will reach a wider and more diverse pool of candidates and create more flexibility in our hiring process,” Stephanie Tipton, Kenney’s chief administrative officer, said in the news release.
The proposal heads to a legislative committee for a hearing, which has yet to be scheduled.
Parker said she will seek to get the proposal to a final vote in City Council by June 24, the final legislative session before members go on summer break until September. She said her hope is to get the question placed on the November ballot.
Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.