Montclair Civil Rights Commission Meeting: Residents Want Greater Equity


Montclair Civil Rights Commission Meeting: Residents Want Greater EquityA group of residents, mostly parents and students, turned out Thursday night for a meeting of the township’s Civil Rights Commission at Montclair Fire Department headquarters to share concerns about inequity in contracts and town hiring, as well as race issues in the public schools.

Civil Rights Commission chair Joseph Kavesh told the group the purpose of the commission is listen to issues and concerns and make recommendations to the Town Council and the Board of Education.

“We can’t subpoena anyone, but we can investigate. I want everyone here tonight to understand, say what’s on your mind. I don’t believe in holding back,” Kavesh said.

But some residents wondered aloud if their comments and complaints would ever go beyond the meeting room. Several said they had been sounding an alarm for years and nothing had been done to fix what they believed to be long-term racial problems in Montclair. Also in attendance at the meeting was Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renee Baskerville, town council liaison to the Civil Rights Commission, Montclair Public School Chief Talent Officer Michelle Russell and Gail Shepard, president of the Montclair Education Association (MEA), which represents teachers.

Resident John Washington told the group of about 30 residents that he has a major problem with Montclair Township Manager Marc Dashield. He says there are federal and state guidelines with regard to Affirmative Action, but that Dashield ignores them. Washington says he has filed Open Public Record Act (OPRA) requests in the past requesting statistical information on the hiring of minorities for township projects, including the South Park Street Development Project. “The percent of workers was barely two percent minority,” he said.

Washington, who has more than 30 years of construction experience, said New Jersey state guidelines for construction work with public money require the manpower be 53 percent minority and 6.9 percent female. “When it comes to Montclair he (Dashield) kicks Affirmative Action to the curb. He needs to be replaced,” Washington said.

Washington told the group he went to a Civil Rights Commission meeting about seven years ago and asked about statistical numbers on the hiring of minorities for the construction of Bullock School, and says he later found out the entire project only had two minorities and one female.

“When is this community going to step up and do what it is supposed to do? When are you going to step up and do something? Do something,” he said.

Audrey Hawley, a longtime resident who retired after 25 years working for the township, said that she was very concerned about a recent comment Montclair Township Manager Dashield made to The Montclair Times about diversity in the Montclair Fire Department. In the Times’ March 13 issue, Dashield is quoted as saying that “the diversity of the Fire Department’s staff is not something that residents currently need to be worried about, and that Montclair is on par with its neighboring municipalities”.

“Why is he saying the residents don’t need to be concerned when he is in charge of Affirmative Action in the district? The rank and file in the fire department has gone backwards in the past few years,” Hawley said, pointing out that of the 84 firemen in the department, only 20 percent are minority, compared to a township that is 27 percent minority.

Hawley should know. Her husband Jarvis Hawley, also present at the meeting, is a retired Montclair Deputy Fire Chief. After listening to complaints from other residents, he shook his head and said, “The same stuff from 30, 40 years ago is happening about education, about hiring, about diversity.”

Councilor Baskerville told the residents they should take action if they think there are clear-cut incidences that violate laws, rules and regulations.

“You have yourselves as resources to get free attorneys. Go to the Education Law Center in Newark. Go to the Women’s Law Group here in Montclair. They will represent you for free,” she said.

Kavesh said the Civil Rights Commission is planning a larger town wide forum, possibly in the fall, to continue discussions about race issues in town and in the schools.

“People are frustrated. If one person says something, ok. If two people say something, ok. But if more people say the same thing they are sounding an alarm,” said Kavesh. “Look, I don’t want to believe there is institutionalized racism, but there are many concerns.”


  1. This article is appalling. With all of the far more critical issues facing this town, the masses are out in force because there aren’t enough minorities in the fire department? Shouldn’t people be on the fire department because they want to be there, not because they were strong armed to fill a quota? And Baskerville is telling people to get free attorneys from Newark? What a sideshow.

  2. What does it say when we have a Black Mayor, Black Town Manager, and the HS Principal is Black. Yet, we continue to have the “same stuff from 30, 40 years ago is happening about education, about hiring, about diversity”?

    When Black folks are the leaders, it’s hard to point a finger at some imagined, racist force creating these circumstance. “Institutional racism?” Well, if the institutions and Boards are lead by Black folks, how exactly does institutional racism work?

    Perhaps, it’s simple incompetence. And incompetence comes in all colors and genders.

  3. “With all of the far more critical issues facing this town, the masses are out in force”

    —yes, not everyone is obsessed with Preserving Tudor Charm. perhaps these folks have some, um, personal connection to this issue that you don’t have, rummy. i might even dare to suggest that you acknowledge that not everyone is guided by the myriad voices in your head.

    “Perhaps, it’s simple incompetence.”

    —perhaps. perhaps it’s an intergalatic black hole. or perhaps not.

  4. @ jcunningham, don’t be so quick to dismiss the “Tudor Charm.” Folks move to communities for lots of reasons– charm is one of them.

    Our arts, museum, Film Festival, Restaurants, and the beautiful homes (my Palatial Estate included, of course) ALL create a desirable community.

    Reading the story, I’m also a bit confused over what folks want, suggestions, or any other specifics. Without them, it reads as more, and forgive me for being plain: complaining. However if, there are real violations of laws (are those “guidelines” mentioned in the story laws- or just something to aspire to?).

    Finally, Baristakids reported that there were 30 parents and kids in attendance. Again, forgive me, but IF these issues are so pressing. Where is everyone?

  5. “Hawley should know.”
    Yes, she should also know Montclair’s minority population is 37%, not 27%.

    “Look, I don’t want to believe there is institutionalized racism, but there are many concerns.”
    It would have been nice if Mr Kavesh had referred to the CRC’s 2013 annual report.

  6. The demographics are 27% black, 10% “other races” for a 37% total “minority” demographic. Seems Mrs. Hawley was more concerned with the 27% than anyone else.

    The whole story reeks of baseless complaining for the sake of stirring the pot; he-said she-said grade school antics with Baskerville at the helm hoping to turn this into a made-up Civil Rights campaign.

  7. Once again,some people here are easily irked by “baseless complaining for the sake of stirring the pot” and a “made-up Civil Rights campaign.”

    Same neurotic paranoia and defensive manner manifest whenever a topic of this sort appears on these pages.

    I called it for what it is a long time ago.

  8. Forgive me, silverleaf, but your writing is so (intentionally, perhaps) vague that what you wrote can apply to those who complain, and those who complain about the complainers.

  9. Silverleaf,
    How the CRC serves us is my question – not the allegations of racism in Montclair. I would imagine one would just have to review the CRC’s annual reports as a starting point.

    This is one of our largest, if not our largest commission with 18 members and 4 liaisons. There are student representatives from both MHS & MSU. Unlike other commissions and advisory boards, Montclair has codified the required cooperation of all municipal departments in any CRC investigation they may undertake. Of course, this is subject to the Township’s attorney’s sign-off. So, I have to wonder what is behind Mr Kavesh’s strange remark about subpeonas.

    The CRC’s role does not seem to include advising the MPS, BoE, or MSU – just the Council. It might believe it has the informal right to do this and the MPS, the BoE and MSU can clearly accept the feedback, but the CRC should make this clear.

    One of their primary roles is to educate residents. As they proceed through their process, they need to do a better job of communicating what the CRC can be as far as a resource to the community in addressing alleged inequities.

  10. I’m going to write off redrum’s comments as baseless complaining for the sake of stirring the pot.

  11. Not vague prof, if you knew redrum’s record around here supporting civil rights and related matters.

    Frank,I applaud your knowledge of the workings of Montclair’s CRC. And yes, while “how the CRC serves us” is important, both matters concern me.

  12. prof, what is it exactly that you find “vague” about this statement? –
    “Same neurotic paranoia and defensive manner manifest whenever a topic of this sort appears on these pages.”

  13. I thought construction set-asides for minority/women/veteran-owned firms were based on the ethnicity/sex/veteran status of the construction firm’s ownership, not on the number of individual minority/woman/veteran-construction workers actually on the site.

  14. Hiring for middle management roles is slow, since there is not a lot of turnover. People spend careers in one job. It is easier to quickly make a show of diversity at the top since it is just one position.

    Before I would hire anyone I would reexamine the organization chart with two points in mind. First I would reduce the more highly paid positions and two, I’d create a second tier (if not already done) to make new hires more affordable. Then in a slightly slimmer fire department if there are openings, apply the quotas and hire the best from each silo.

  15. “Some people will never be able to transcend viewing everything through the prism of race.” Said the person who has never experienced (or can’t remember) being at the receiving end of that prism.

    So while I generally agree, it’s a fool’s game to pretend to view the world in some “colorblind” way. Reminds me of an old Redd Foxx joke, “Anyone in here never cursed before? No? Let me slam your hand in a car door, you’ll say Sh*t, F**k and {n-word}.”

    Get it? One must experience the pain before he or she can say it doesn’t hurt. And after, you won’t.

    (I miss Redd.)

  16. I find it interesting that no one above to date has commented on how mistakenly the word “equity” was used in the headline above. This was not a stock about stock options, after all

    And perhaps, just perhaps, the word Baristanet’s crack reporting and editorial staff was after is in fact ‘equality.”

  17. Webster’s first definition of “equity” is “fairness or justice in the way people are treated”.

    So I’d say they got it right.

    On the other hand, the word crack poster cathar may have been looking for when he wrote “this was not a STOCK about stock options, after all” may perhaps, just perhaps, have been “story”.

  18. A typo is one thing, your croiagginess. A purposed misuse of language is quite another. (You know, like calling you a “gentleman” in anything but an ironic context.) And I doubt very much that the Baristanet folks meant the meaning of “equity” you reference.

    Plus you ran to Webster’s? Not the OED? In a funk today about your wagnalls?

    But I really don’t want another tiresome exchange with you. If this is all you have to complain about on this site then your calendar is blank indeed for today.

  19. “If this is all you have to complain about” said the crank who complained about a word which was used properly.

    What a buffoon!

  20. Professor, it is precisely because I have been on the receiving end of real racism that I have the perspective that I do. I can identify real instances of racism, and I know when someone is just playing get back. I also can differentiate an act of racism from situations that are just humans bumping into one another. Lets preserve our cries of racism for actual instances of the same rather than making every single thing about race.

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