SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council reappointed a Portland firefighter to the city’s Civil Service Commission on Monday night, overruling a councilor’s nomination of an African-American woman to the position instead.

The vote was 5-2 in favor of Phillip LaRou, who had served on the commission for the last nine months, filling a short term, and had asked to be reappointed for a full five-year term. LaRou, who is white, was absent because he was at work.

District Five Councilor Brad Fox had declined LaRou’s request and instead nominated Deqa Dhalac, a human services counselor for the city of Portland, hoping to increase racial diversity on the city’s boards and commissions.

“It was a difficult decision for me,” Fox said. “Deqa is one of the finest people I know. The city needs to change. I feel this may be the time and place.”

No people of color attended a recent council event recognizing city board and commission members, Fox said after the meeting.

In a city that’s about 90 percent white, according to the U.S. Census, the fire department has no nonwhite members and the police department has one Asian officer, Fox said. The Civil Service Commission oversees police and firefighter hiring and contract negotiations.

On Councilor Linda Cohen’s motion, the council amended Fox’s appointment order, substituting LaRou’s name for Dhalac’s.

Cohen and other councilors said that while Dhalac is well qualified to serve on the commission, LaRou had demonstrated significant commitment and professional expertise over the last several months and should be reappointed.

Several councilors agreed with the need to increase diversity in city government, but said it would be inappropriate to reject LaRou’s continued interest, especially when the commission faces a challenging search for a new fire chief and the city has many vacancies on other boards and committees.

“It sends the wrong message,” Mayor Tom Blake said. “I think we already have the best person there.”

Blake noted that the Civil Service Commission is obligated to hire the best candidates for police and fire department positions based on test performance and regardless of race.

Blake and other councilors urged Dhalac to consider seeking another appointment, such as to the Library Advisory Board or the Arts & Historic Preservation Committee. Some also suggested that she run for a council seat.

In addition to Blake and Cohen, Councilors Claude Morgan, Maxine Beecher and Patti Smith approved LaRou’s appointment. Fox and Councilor Eben Rose voted against it.

Fox, Dhalac and several of her supporters left the meeting immediately after the council voted.

“I’m disappointed,” Dhalac said outside the council chamber. She questioned the council’s commitment to increasing diversity and said she has no plans to serve on another board or committee.

Dhalac also said during the meeting and afterward that she was offended when Rosemarie De Angelis, a Civil Service Commission member and former councilor and mayor, tried in recent days to talk her into taking another committee seat.

De Angelis spoke during the meeting in favor of keeping LaRou on the Civil Service Commission and noted her conversation with Dhalac.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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