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Police, Firefighters Question Promotion Process

Price says the police and fire departments independently hired Coleman & Associates, a Dallas-based consulting firm, to oversee routine assessment exams that are protocol for any advancement. It wasn't until the tests were administered that accusations began about the process being unfair.

The city already has paid $94,450 of the $300,000 contract with Coleman, says L. Chester Brazzell, director of human resources for the city.

Now the city has been forced to hire and pay for an independent auditor to investigate employee complaints that the tests were poorly written and unfairly graded.

Officials with Coleman could not be reached for comment.

Similar accusations about Coleman & Associates' testing of Cleveland police candidates in 1998 resulted in more than 2,000 prospective police officers being kept in limbo for more than a year and a half. The resulting scandal made headlines, and Cleveland officers have now hired attorneys to fight the company and the Cleveland department's promotional process.

According to press reports, Coleman & Associates lacked experience writing the kind of exam Cleveland needed, and cost tens of thousands of dollars more than other companies. Still, Coleman won the bid to conduct the 1998 exam.

Each year, the Richmond police department takes requests for proposals from outside companies to handle the tests given to officers eligible for promotion. The city's procurement office is responsible for taking bids and doing background checks on companies that want the job, says Price.

In recent years Booth Research Group, based in Parker, Colo., has administered the exams. That changed last year when Richmond awarded the contract to Coleman.

"Whenever you're dealing with the promotional process there's an element of mistrust" among those who want to be promoted, says Booth Research Group President Walter Booth. "All it takes is one company to screw up and the sense of mistrust escalates," he adds.

The assessment exams set a ranking among eligible employees for who will be likely to get promoted to positions that become available throughout the year. In the police department alone between 100 and 150 people participate each time assessment exams are given.

The process takes a few months. It includes a written test followed by a series of oral exercises that include briefings and hypothetical scenarios. After this, eligible candidates are evaluated to determine whom the chief of police interviews.

Acting Police Chief Teresa Gooch has asked the city's human-resources department to hire an independent auditor to examine the results of this year's testing, says Price. And the city has indicated it will, Price says.

If the auditor determines the process was handled properly the results will likely stand. If, however, the testing proves unfair or compromised, the police and fire departments could have another budgetary and personnel problem on their hands.

"The department is definitely taking all the concerns seriously," says Price. "We want a fair and equitable process."

— Brandon Walters

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