Local governments to add racial equity staff | Roegner

The 1960s were about Black people getting the right to vote, and we thought equality would naturally follow.

Unfortunately, the process of inclusion has moved at a glacial pace over the past 50 years, as some white groups have pushed back through voter suppression to maintain their advantage. But after several years and a summer of the evening news capturing the worst from our police, some governments are moving to add positions that can help bring social equity and inclusion to the forefront and make a difference.

Even in the aftermath of several ugly incidents of white police officers killing minorities and the resurgence of Black Lives Matter, there was never much support for “defunding police departments.” But the phrase, while sometimes misused, did provide equal footing for debate and change.

An unlikely candidate in the King County Library System stepped forward and recently hired Dominica Myers as the new director of diversity, equity and inclusion with a salary range of $125,856 to $151,031. Previously she worked for the Seattle Opera. With over 50 libraries outside Seattle, and 700,000 card holders that represent different cultural backgrounds, the library appears to be looking to improve its services and needs a plan or road map to follow.

The Kent City Council recently approved a new “equity project” with $243,790 in funding that will include salary and benefits of $168,790 for a director. The new director will report to the city chief administrative officer and will be working with the mayor, council, Cultural Communities Board, city staff and a consultant to create an equity strategic plan that will guide the entire organization’s future work for several years.

The City of Auburn hired Brenda Goodson-Moore in August at a salary of $116,687 so she is already working with the mayor, council and staff on building a more diverse, inclusive and equitable environment. She will be working with the Racing to Equity consulting group to implement a community-wide resident survey to obtain citizen input to help Mayor Nancy Backus and the city council determine what the priorities should be. Her goals include building an organizational assessment, racial equity policy development and establishing a racial equity team. She currently reports to the human resources director, but that may change in the future.

Federal Way seems to lag behind other jurisdictions in focusing on inclusion and equity, and despite several suggestions from community members, Mayor Jim Ferrell’s budget did not contain anything to recognize that cultural relationships with City Hall need attention. No body cameras (though it was added to the wish list to request state funding) and no equity staff, no independent panel to review police “use of force.” Nothing that would suggest an awareness that the issue was important to a significant number of community members. His priorities remain police and picking up litter.

More importantly, it is past time to listen to those that have not traditionally been heard. However, at one of the last special meetings on Ferrell’s proposed budget, the city council added a part-time position to start work on equity and inclusion issues.

But there is a lack of clarity and agreement about what the new position would do. The position should be full time because there is significant work to be done. Ferrell again didn’t seem warm to the idea and tried to keep the position as minimally impactful as possible. Other governments have hired top of the line talent and paid them accordingly at a management level to emphasize the importance of the responsibility and their commitment to equality.

In Kent, the position reports to the chief administrative officer. Ferrell said Federal Way’s part-time position would report to the human relations manager. The Federal Way City Council would do well to invite speakers from Kent and Auburn to learn more about their process. Or meet with a couple of different consultants to help build consensus on what the position would do. This is a whole new area of learning and policy development, and information gathering needs to occur that will lead to a strategic plan. Community participation is truly needed, or the idea may just be forgotten by the city administration.

Clearly one of the areas that needs training and improvement is recruitment of more minorities in the police department. But learning how to avoid systemic racism is worth the investment. Each city needs to include all their residents and their concerns in the formulation of public policy.

Progress for some governments seems well considered and thoughtful, while others seem less committed to a truly inclusive community.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.