ATLANTA, GA – An Atlanta firefighters union official Monday denied race has anything to do with its request to Mayor Kasim Reed to enlist outside investigators to look into allegations of cheating on a fire promotion exam.
The request for an independent inquiry follows a civil trial judgment against the city Friday, when a Fulton County jury found the city’s Department of Human Resources didn’t fully investigate the allegations.
The Atlanta chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters has asked Reed to request assistance from the GBI or the state’s Inspector General for a new investigation.
Jim Daws, president of the union’s local chapter, said Monday that Reed ignored the union’s request in June 2010 shortly after concerns were raised about the test results. Now that a jury has found there was evidence of cheating on the exams, Reed should take action, Daws said.
“Only then will we be able to take actions to restore full confidence in the integrity of Atlanta Fire Rescue and limit the negative consequences to those who actually engaged in corruption,” Daws said in a prepared statement.
In an interview with the AJC, Daws said the union’s request for outside investigators is not racially motivated, noting the majority of union members and test takers are black.
“We’re protecting everybody’s rights that took the test above board,” Daws said. “All we want is for the integrity of the test to be protected.”
The issue of race was raised Friday by Robert Godfrey, senior assistant city attorney.
Saying the city was considering an appeal of the jury’s decision, Godfrey said that the plaintiffs’ case “basically centered on the idea that you couldn’t be an African-American in 2010 and do well on a test.”
The union sent a letter to Reed on Saturday requesting the outside investigation. Daws said he had not heard from Reed or the city as of Monday.
The city didn’t respond to requests for comment Monday.
Three Fire Rescue employees — two white and one black — sued the city in July 2010, alleging some firefighters were given the answers to questions before they took a promotion exam earlier that year. The plaintiffs represented nearly 160 other city employees who took the same test in April 2010.
The lawsuit concerned five black firefighters who were members of the same study group and finished among the top eight highest test scorers.
According to the suit, two assistant fire chiefs and members of the Atlanta black firefighters association Brothers Combined provided exam answers to the other black fire employees before they took the test in April 2010.
The lawsuit also accused the city’s Human Resources Department of conducting a “superficial at best” review of the cheating allegations.
The city has denied those allegations.
Lee Parks, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said the jury’s verdict means the city may have to invalidate the results of the old test and hold a retest of the lieutenant’s exam. Firefighters who score high enough for a promotion could then become eligible for back pay and interest dating to the earlier test.
The parties will return to court March 8 to determine what the city owes the firefighters in attorney’s fees. If the two sides can’t reach an agreement, Fulton Superior Court Judge Kelly Amanda Lee will determine the amount of the award.