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After Clashing With City Council, Sarno Appoints Diversity Officer

City of Springfield, Office of the Mayor

    The largest city in western Massachusetts is beginning the new year with a new effort to hire a more diverse municipal workforce.

   Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno has hired labor attorney Talia Gee as the city’s first Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer.

    "I am really excited about today's announcement," said Gee. " I am excited to be in the role and to do that work."

    The creation of the new cabinet-level office was announced by Sarno at a City Hall news conference Wednesday attended by several city department and agency heads and members of Gee’s family.

   After graduating from law school in 2010, Gee worked for a law firm in Springfield, did volunteer community legal work, and obtained an MBA.   She was hired in June 2018 to work for the city’s Labor Relations Department.

   In the new job, she is expected to develop and execute proactive initiatives to recruit, hire, and advance for promotion a city workforce that more closely reflects Springfield’s demographics.

  " This is about increasing opportunities and about getting the best and the brightest for our taxpayers  in the city of Springfield, " said Sarno.

   Sarno has defended his administration’s record on diversity in city employment. But he has been criticized for passing over minorities when filling key jobs, such as the appointment in 2017 of a new Fire Commissioner.  

    Last summer, the City Council approved an ordinance to create a diversity officer. But, it was vetoed by the mayor and the council could not muster the votes for an override.

    Sarno said Wednesday the new diversity officer position was created as a result of a reorganization of the city’s former Equal Employment Opportunity Office where the longtime director is retiring.

    "We worked about a year-and-a-half, almost two on this transitional and evolving position," said Sarno.

    City Councilor Marcus Williams, who sponsored the failed diversity officer ordinance, said he was pleased the mayor had taken the steps to create the position.

    " To see now to my surprise an announcement for a new chief diversity officer is a bit interesting to me, probably politics as usual, but I am glad it is being implemented," said Williams adding, "It is a very important position for the city of Springfield."

    Gee will officially start in the new job on January 14, 2019 with a salary of $92,000.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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