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With the city's minority-hiring record in dispute, Buffalo officials pledged Tuesday to launch new efforts to promote community awareness of upcoming Civil Service exams and help people prepare for the tests.

During a meeting that turned contentious at times, the Common Council and mayoral representatives discussed the city's record of hiring and promoting members of minority groups. Though the initial debate focused on practices in the Streets Sanitation Division, the discussion veered into broader topics.

Vincent J. LoVallo, Mayor Anthony M. Masiello's chief of staff, accused some lawmakers of "dividing" the city by suggesting that the administration has not made efforts to hire and promote minorities.

"To that I say, 'Bunk,' " LoVallo told lawmakers at a Common Council Civil Service Committee meeting. "I take great offense to some of the statements that have been made in these chambers."

LoVallo said 53 percent of the individuals hired by the city last year were minorities and women. When pressed by Council Member at Large Charley H. Fisher III for a breakdown of just minority hires, LoVallo vowed to supply the figures.

Fisher criticized the city's reliance on seasonal workers, employees who typically work for less than $7 an hour and do not receive the same benefits as permanent employees.

"These are people who have been abused, misused and mistreated," Fisher said.

Fisher is among several lawmakers who support extending the city's living-wage ordinance to seasonal employees. Such a move would ensure that all workers make at least $7.22 an hour this year if they don't receive health benefits.

With benefits, the minimum hourly rate would be $7.15. The ordinance, adopted in 1999, requires businesses contracting with the city to pay employees the hourly minimums.

The issue surfaced earlier this month after Fisher's inquiry into the hirings and promotions of minority employees in the Streets Sanitation Division of the Public Works, Parks and Streets Department. Department officials said minorities constitute 11.9 percent of the work force of the division, which currently has no minority foremen, supervisors or dispatchers.

But city officials have said part of the solution involves encouraging more minorities to take Civil Service exams and helping them to prepare for the tests. One speaker at Tuesday's session complained that the tests are inadequately publicized.

Sharon M. West, executive director of the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, said the authority is willing to work with the Civil Service Commission to provide tutorial sessions and other test-preparation services.

Community Services Commissioner Donald O. Allen said the city's Division of Employment and Training is willing to intensify efforts aimed at improving minority participation in Civil Service exams.

Edward J. Mahoney, who sits on the Civil Service Commission, said the assistance of the Housing Authority and other city offices "would be welcomed."

In a show of support for the administration, about 40 minority city employees attended Tuesday's committee meeting. Some -- such as West and Allen -- manage city departments, agencies or divisions.

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