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Zoo, garden still lacking minorities

Thursday, January 11, 2007
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman Staff writer

Ongoing problems with low minority employment at the county-supported Chicago Botanical Gardens and Brookfield Zoo prompted angry questioning by commissioners Wednesday.
Minorities made up 22 percent of the work force at both institutions, both down from last year. Cook County's population is 52 percent minority.
Commissioner Bill Beavers (D-Chicago), who just joined the board after decades pushing for minority hiring in Chicago as an alderman, called the figures "ridiculous."
"I've been going to the Brookfield Zoo for 65 years," Beavers told zoo officials. "That's a long time. ... You mean to tell me it took this long to find one (black) person who could fit one of these qualifications?"
Of the zoo's 431 year-round employees, Beavers noted, only 12 are black.
Both institutions sit on land owned by the Cook County Forest Preserve District and are supported, in part, with tax money the district collects. But both are run by independent nonprofit corporations that don't answer to the county board.
The Chicago Zoological Society, which runs the zoo, has increased its minority recruitment efforts and is sponsoring internships to help college students train for zoo careers, society vice president Mena Boulanger said.
"It's something we're very aware of," Boulanger said. "The challenge, frankly, is we have very low turnover. We have 20-, 30-, 35-year employees."
Commissioner Roberto Maldonado (D-Chicago) renewed his pledge to introduce an affirmative action plan for county hiring. He made the same promise last year, but no proposal ever reached the floor.
In January 2006, minorities made up 26 percent of the botanical garden's work force and 25 percent at the zoo.
The forest preserve district also dropped in diversity this year, going from a 38 percent minority work force to 37 percent.


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