FACT CHECK: Activists’ claim city has 3 Black employees way off

Le'on Willis speaks during a call to the public at a city council meeting on Aug. 15, 2023. [Monica D. Spencer]

Activists said city government in Maricopa lacked diversity during an Aug. 15 city council meeting, reprimanding it for employing just “three Blacks.”

It turns out this number is off by a factor of 1,200%. But there might still be some veracity to claims that the Black community is underrepresented in city government.

During a call to the public, Le’on Willis and Kent O’Jon said the city did not make an effort to represent Maricopa’s diverse residents.

“The Black population is more than 10% of Maricopa and continues to grow,” he told the council. “Yet this is not reflected in the hiring at the higher or lower level of city government.”

O’Jon, director of the Black Maricopa Chamber of Commerce, shared that sentiment during the call.

“We notice that out of the employees that are hired by the city, that work for the city, there are only three Blacks represented in the city of Maricopa,” O’Jon said.

The numbers tell a different, though related story.

The city employs 36 Black people. But that amounts to just 7% of its more than 500 employees, according to data obtained by InMaricopa.

These numbers were “self-reported by the employee” and “not otherwise verified,” according to city spokesperson Brandon LaVorgna.

Eight of the three dozen employees work in management positions. The city did not say how many worked in full- or part-time roles.

[Source: City of Maricopa]
Departments with the highest Black employment are recreation services with 16 employees, public works with eight and the police department with five. These same departments seem the most diverse overall as they employ the highest numbers of American Indian, Asian and Hispanic people.

The city clerk, municipal court, executive services and public safety administration do not employ any Black people. These same departments also do not self-report any American Indian or Asian employees.

And, at 7%, the number of Black employees does not reflect the city’s demographics.

The U.S. Census estimates Maricopa’s Black population to be 12.4%. That means Maricopa has the largest Black population in the state per capita, with Tolleson (12.02%) and Eloy (10.6%) rounding up the top three.

City Councilmember Henry Wade, perhaps Maricopa’s most visible Black leader, said he feels the city could improve its diversity efforts.

Henry Wade. [Bryan Mordt]
“I think we have a lot of work to do to create an environment that is inclusive,” Wade said. “(The city) is missing out on diverse ideas, showing inclusion or showing how the city truly is diverse. It is when you go to stores and restaurants, but you don’t see that reflected in city government and city employment.”

Willis said he doesn’t think the city takes that issue of visibility seriously.

“We pay taxes like everyone else, but when it comes to representation, we’re not represented,” he said. “I’ve been here six years and I haven’t seen any improvement, which tells me that they don’t want any improvement.”

Local activist Aubrey Morris agreed, adding his move to Maricopa prompted him to strive for a more welcoming environment for his children than he had.

“When we pass on, our kids are going to inherit our properties,” Morris said. “We want them to be in a city that respects them and recognizes them.”

Wade said he hoped to spark discussion around diversity and inclusion among city staff — all bogus statistics aside.

“The people love Maricopa and Maricopa needs to love them back,” he said.