The Montclair Township Council has hired a lawyer to investigate claims by two Black firefighters that recent promotional exams were administered in a racially discriminatory way.
Pressure to investigate came from the town’s Civil Rights Commission and NAACP Chapter, which received the confidential claims.
Roger Terry, president of the Montclair NAACP, said in a statement last week that the organization had received “credible allegations by two African American Officers of the Montclair Fire Department” of racial bias.
Christa Rapoport, chair of the Civil Rights Commission, said in an emailed statement to council members last week that the firefighters allege “inadequate administration and supervision of the examination.” She said that new scenarios were added and, unlike in past years, no points were given for seniority. There was also “selective consideration of minor, decades-old disciplinary incidents and excused medical absences, designed to negatively impact the promotional scores of only African-American candidates.”
In her statement to the council, Rapoport said that another assertation is that Montclair Fire Chief John Herrmann didn’t recuse himself from his son’s promotional activities.
Councilor Peter Yacobellis, a liason to the Civil Rights Commission, said he is concerned that “we might have ourselves a textbook example of structural racism. I certainly hope not. But it’s my understanding that this isn’t the first time accusations like this have been raised.”
He and Rapoport both called on the department to hold off on issuing any promotions until the investigation is complete.
“We need to make sure lived equality in Montclair matches legal equality and, frankly, matches the values that I know the majority of this town holds,” Yacobellis said.
Julia Martin is the 2021 recipient of the New Jersey Society for Professional Journalists’ David Carr award for her coverage of Montclair for NorthJersey.com.
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