‘Weird and uncomfortable’: Adams wants photos of city job applicants

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Of nine current and past public servants interviewed for this story, most expressed concern that the practice is already leading to staffing decisions based more on race and ethnicity than merit, even though they have said to support a diverse workforce. And nearly all said it added another hurdle to an already slow hiring process.

In two emails reviewed by POLITICO, members of the mayor’s staff advised a dozen high-ranking employees to submit photos of people they want on board for the mayor’s review.

“Indicating that the mayor would like all agencies to be run in this type of style,” reads an email sent by an Adams staffer on April 19, referring to an attached template of existing images and job descriptions for agency heads. “Also clarify that the avatars in the attachment must be real photos because the mayor likes to start recognizing people’s faces.”

The new protocol, outlined by officials from multiple agencies, is widely seen as a move to diversify the city’s workforce – a priority for the new mayor, whose slate of mayoral deputies includes mostly women and people of color.

“There’s no other way to interpret it,” said a senior city official, who would speak only on condition of anonymity to speak freely about domestic politics.

The person recalled receiving the instructions verbally and being told by someone who works in the mayor’s nominating office that Adams wanted the agencies to hire people who “reflect the constituencies we serve.”

“Everyone knew what it was. There was no doubt. It was the first thing everyone said: “We’re going to start counting complexions now,” a recently deceased city hall worker said of the practice.

Others say it slowed the hiring process at a time when vacancies were rising – 8% of municipal jobs went unfilled in April, according to data from the Citizens Budget Commission. And some city workers questioned whether it was appropriate to make hiring decisions based on demographics.

Adams spokesman Fabien Levy stressed that the policy was “to respect our colleagues and know who they are when we arrive at an event.”

“City Hall reviews the resumes of all final candidates for agency leadership positions to ensure the Mayor and we at City Hall know who is in charge of projects when working with them,” Levy added. . “The Adams Administration hires the best people for the best jobs in the best city in the world. And we are committed to building a team that reflects the city they serve and the administration they represent. Every hire is judged on his qualifications and his ability to meet the needs of New Yorkers day in and day out.

One of the group emails reviewed by POLITICO, titled “Template Hiring Slide,” asks agency officials to submit org charts with names and titles of staff members to the mayor’s team. existing.

The April 15 missive says Deputy Mayor for Operations Meera Joshi recently met with Adams to discuss hiring and showed him a slide of her own proposed team.

“The mayor really liked the org chart and he asked all DM teams to use it as a template moving forward on team structures,” the town hall staffer wrote. . “I’ve attached a template here for you all – I’m happy to help with the design of the slides if you need help with that. Note that the avatar allows you to provide a photo of the member of the crew. “

Two agency employees responsible for hiring staff said they were not required to request photos from candidates, as long as they could provide images to the mayor. They said they often scour social media sites like LinkedIn for portraits. Once obtained, they should paste the image into their agency’s organizational chart — which includes photographs and job descriptions of existing officials — and highlight potential newcomers in yellow, according to a copy of the PowerPoint reviewed by POLITICO. .

“The whole hiring process this city hall has in place is hard enough, and the photo requirement takes it from difficult to weird and uncomfortable,” another senior agency official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A New York-based labor attorney said there is no law prohibiting hiring decisions based on race and ethnicity if they pursue a goal of workforce diversity.

“If a company called me up and said, ‘Hey listen, we really want to increase diversity in our company, especially at higher levels, do you think it would help us if we used photos to increase it,’ I don’t think see how much of a problem it would be if it actually helped,” attorney Jeanne Christensen, a partner at Wigdor Law LLP, said in an interview. “They have the right to take action to try to achieve that goal. of diversity, provided that in doing so they do not violate applicable law.”

His only caveat: Job applicants shouldn’t be required to submit photographs, although there’s nothing legally stopping officials from looking for portraits online. “I would say you better make sure you have their permission and they’re doing it voluntarily,” she said.

In fact, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission addresses this issue, noting on its website: “Employers should not ask for a photograph of an applicant. If necessary for identification purposes, a photograph may be obtained after an offer of employment has been made and accepted. »

Asked about his rationale for the policy on Thursday, Adams reiterated his desire to recognize the faces of city workers.

“I think nothing is more disrespectful than when people work for you on your management team and you don’t know who they are. I should know my employees, I should approach them and say thank you , I should know what they look like,” he said after an unrelated press conference in Queens, before arguing that people who believe otherwise are just angry that he likes being mayor.

“Now for those who have other reasons why I decide I want an org chart, that’s up to them. You know, a lot of people start their day by saying, “Let me see what hateful things I can think of.” You know, I start my day saying, ‘Wow, I’m lucky to be the mayor of New York,'” he added.

“You know, I’m amazed at how upset people are that I’m happy to be mayor.”

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