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Task force reacts to e-mail

August 21, 2001 

Auburn needs to adopt a mandatory diversity-training program for city employees, the two co-chairs of the city's Social Justice Task Force said Monday.

"Any time you educate people about people who are different from them, they're going to do their job better. That goes for anywhere," said Cathy Leogrande, one of the co-chairs.

Leogrande was reacting to reports this week that racist and sexually obscene images circulated between members of the city police department through their home e-mail accounts.

"Everyone needs to start saying we're not going to tolerate this anymore," she said.

Laurel Ullyette, the other co-chair, said the e-mails underscore the need for the city to begin a mandatory diversity-training program for its 412 part- and full-time employees.

"People need to learn this stuff. What they've learned from growing up is how to hate or to be afraid of differences in other people. We need to unlearn that," Ullyette said.

Although the e-mails are offensive and racist, they are constitutionally protected as free speech by the First Amendment, said Thomas Leone, city corporation counsel.

That is why the city is not going to punish police Officer Jeffery D. Mead or former police dispatcher Denise Malone, the pair who allegedly circulated the e-mails from their homes while they were off duty, Leone said.

"Because of the First Amendment, we can't tell people what to say and what not to say or what they have to believe," Leone said. "In terms of discipline, there is nothing we can do."

The e-mails have attracted attention as part of a civil lawsuit, now in federal court in Syracuse, PROGRAM, FROM PAGE B-1

in which three African-American residents of Auburn have accused city police officers of using excessive force during a traffic stop that turned into a melee in May 1998.

The e-mails, which include several racist and sexually degrading caricatures, make no mention of the 1998 incident or the lawsuit brought by Darrel D. Love, Thomas E. Love Jr. and Cherry Love Duncan. Duncan is a member of the Social Justice Task Force.

Dale Post, president of the Auburn-Cayuga County branch of the NAACP, also called for the city to begin a sensitivity-training program for its employees.

"A commitment on the part of the city of Auburn to engage in a formal program of sensitivity training to reduce racial bias would be a positive outcome to this disturbing and negative revelation," Post said in a statement.

Police Chief Gary J. Giannotta said the e-mail controversy has tarnished his department's reputation by branding it as racist. He said he spoke with Mead last week and said, "I don't anticipate a repeat of this."

Giannotta said he does not think his department needs mandatory diversity training.

"I just don't see the need for the whole department to go through that, but I can't speak for the whole city," he said.

Mead did not return a telephone message left at the police department, and Malone, who works for the Cayuga County E-911 office, declined to comment.

Mayor Melina Carnicelli appointed the 21-member task force 14 months ago to study racism in the city. The panel can only make recommendations and is charged with raising public awareness about social and racial injustices.

Although the city does not have a formal diversity-training program, Carnicelli said money is in this year's budget to train city employees to work better with the public and to provide better overall service as a result.

"Do I believe our organization needs to upgrade our skills in valuing diversity? Absolutely," she said.

Carnicelli said she is disturbed by the e-mails.

"If this had been conducted in the workplace, it would have been dealt with swiftly and severely," she said.

"Is it condoned? Absolutely not. Unfortunately, racist attitudes are not illegal. They exist in our community, they exist in our country and they exist in our world," she said.

By Scott Rapp, Copyright © 2001 The Syracuse Newspapers. Used with permission.

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