Council gets briefed on city’s racial equity work

The City Council got an update on racial equity efforts within city departments Wednesday and offered feedback on priorities moving forward.

Deputy City Coordinator Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde provided a snapshot of several departments’ work on equity to the Council’s Committee of the Whole and outlined future goals, which include aligning best practices and clarifying how the city will measure progress.

She said the City Coordinator’s office plans to finalize a racial equity framework with specific initiatives and timelines for departments by the end of the year. The office recently hired two new equity and inclusion managers focused on the work — Joy Marsh Stephens and Julianne Leerssen.

To date, city leaders have been working on several initiatives, including organizing cultural competency training for city employees, crafting a racial equity assessment toolkit, engaging more women- and minority-owned businesses in the procurement process, and recruiting more people of color for city jobs and openings on boards and commissions.

The Fire Department, for instance, has a program at North and Roosevelt High Schools to encourage students to consider careers as EMTs and the IT department has stepped up recruitment of people of color for tech jobs. 

City Council President Barb Johnson (Ward 4) said more people of color need to be included on city boards like the Planning Commission and Heritage Preservation Commission instead of just the Civil Rights Commission. She also suggested stipends should be offered to help commissioners cover childcare to attend evening meetings.

“It’s an embarrassment,” she said. “It’s not like we don’t have qualified people of color in our community who are architects, planners and historians.”

City Council Member Blong Yang (Ward 5) said he felt like the city’s equity work has become “murky” and difficult to decipher.

“I’m kind of lost on all of this stuff,” he said. “… I just seems like it is way too complicated for the average person.”

Council Member Cam Gordon (Ward 2) asked how city leaders will be measuring success of goals. “I think we need to nail that down pretty soon, too,” he said.

Rivera-Vandermyde said the coordinator’s office is looking at ways to coordinate efforts to maximize resources and benefits.

“We are a data-driven city and we want to make sure that as we move forward we are able to somehow show that we are moving the dial on equity, because otherwise we are sitting here doing good work that feels great,” she said. “But we want to be able to show that it’s making a difference to the community.”

She said there has been a “wealth of work” and conversations about racial equity throughout the city’s enterprise. 

“It also shows me that the positions we’ve hired in the Coordinator’s office to help steer our equity efforts were really needed as similar work was being done by different departments,” she said. “I’m excited to be a part of this great opportunity for alignment and tangible progress.”