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Latinos lack in power positions in area cities, report says

Report cites ‘silent crisis’ in area cities

The Latino population in Boston, Somerville, and Chelsea has boomed in recent years, but their faces remain largely absent from positions of power in City Hall, according to a new report from an advocacy organization that brands the dearth of Hispanics in local government a “silent crisis.”

The report commissioned by the Greater Boston Latino Network asserts that diversity matters at City Hall because research has shown that inclusive bureaucracies are better equipped to handle the complex issues of multicultural cities.

“This is not just about Latinos. This is about the quality of government,” said Miren Uriarte, a University of Massachusetts Boston professor and coauthor of the report. “Inclusive government is better government.”

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In Boston, more than 1 in 6 residents are Latino, yet just one Hispanic serves in Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s 13-member cabinet, although a second will start later this month. Latinos make up the largest enrollment in Boston public schools, but only two Hispanics were appointed to the 12-member search committee for a new superintendent.

Among Walsh’s department heads and the city’s nearly 400 seats on boards and commissions, 7 percent of appointees are Latino, according to the report, which is expected to be widely releasedTuesday.

Still, Boston is more representative than Somerville. That city’s population is 10 percent Latino, but Hispanics account for fewer than 2 percent of those serving in positions of power at City Hall.

Statistics in Chelsea are the most troubling, according to Uriarte.

The city near the mouth of the Mystic River is more than 60 percent Latino, yet Hispanics hold just 14 percent of leadership positions at City Hall, according to the report, “The Silent Crisis: Including Latinos and Why It Matters.”

The findings did not surprise Patricia Montes, executive director of Centro Presente, an East Boston organization that advocates for immigrants’ rights.

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“Even when the Latino population is growing, they are not being represented,” Montes said. “We want to see more Latinos in positions of power. We want to contribute and be part of the political arena.”

The Greater Boston Latino Network is a collection of community-based organizations promoting Latinos in decision-making positions in government. The 78-page report relied on census data, municipal websites, press accounts, and phone calls to quantify the number of Latinos in leadership positions in municipal government, and on scores of boards and commissions.

Other authors included James Jennings, a professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University, and Jen Douglas, an independent researcher who recently completed a PhD in public policy at UMassBoston.

The report urged cities to make including Latinos in leadership positions a priority and recommended that communities be vocal about their demands of government.

In Boston, Walsh took office in January and vowed to build an administration that reflects the diversity of a city in which people of color and women make up more than half the population. In his second appointment, Walsh named a Latino, Felix G. Arroyo, chief of health and human services. Walsh’s first wave of hires, however, was overwhelmingly white and male,  The Boston Globe reported in February.

Walsh broke with the precedent of the previous administration and has refused to release the information gathered by the city on the race of individual municipal employees. Secretary of State William F. Galvin’s office ruled that the administration was not required to release the data.

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On Monday, Walsh was not made available for comment on the report addressing the lack of Latinos in government. Boston’s chief of operations, Joseph Rull, said in an interview that Walsh has made progress diversifying City Hall but more must be done.

Rull said Boston’s municipal workforce includes roughly 35 percent people of color, an increase of 3 percentage points since January. He described it as a significant uptick for an organization with 17,000 employees. The administration is about to disclose the hiring of Boston’s first chief diversity officer, Rull said. The city is also launching a diversity inclusion team made up of internal and external advisers. “The word diversity comes out of my mouth if not once, multiple times a day,” Rull said. “We need to make sure that our workforce within city government reflects the city of Boston.”

Somerville spokeswoman Denise Taylor said her city agreed with the report’s findings that inclusiveness was crucial for successful municipal government.

“The city is actively striving to both diversify our workforce through equal opportunity hiring and to better engage residents of every background through a range of intensive community outreach efforts,” Taylor said in an e-mail. “We welcome the opportunity to review the report’s suggestions for potential further steps we can take.”

Chelsea officials did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Douglas, the independent researcher, said in an interview that a study in Texas showed that increasing black and Latino teachers in multiracial school districts had a notable impact. The performance of all students — white, black, and Latino — improved.

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“That is the thing that excited me most,” Douglas said. “That a more inclusive government is a better government for everybody.”


Andrew Ryan can be reached at andrew.ryan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan.

Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story misstated an increase in the percentage of people of color in Boston’s municipal workforce. Since January, it has increased by 3 percentage points, not 2 percentage points.