Dane County Committees Hear About Equity Initiative

Posted June 19th, 2014 @ 11:48 AM by

Tuesday night I went to this meeting hoping that Dane County might come up with something better than what the city did. I quickly realized that since its the same staff at the Joint Public Health Department, it was going to be the same process and likely would have the same underwhelming results. But then, I quickly became annoyed for another reason which you know about if you read my Facebook page.

First of all, I found the city report to be very discouraging. Their “bright spots” include things like the AASPIRE program, which has been regularly targeted for cuts over the years by departments and alders, high school internships and summer hiring, all of which are not people who are likely to influence the city. It also included the affordable housing in the TIF policy, which will, if experience tells us anything, never get used. It talks about neighborhood resource teams which we had back in the 90s and haven’t seemed to change much. The MAC and WIC committees which if you ask the some of the alders they probably never even heard of and don’t make policy recommendations on anything, at least I haven’t seen it in the last 15 years. They had two pilot projects involving voting and large item trash pick up – which I don’t know if anything changed as a result, they just figured out that renters, who live in areas where there tend to me more people of color move a lot and have more large items to dispose of – a no brainer to anyone paying attention. The equity assessment tool they are working on may have potential, but I haven’t seen anything about it to know if it will be useful or not. And the recommendations and next steps involve city staff training, workplans, teams and guidelines internally for city staff, which is hard to see any end result from the outside world. Maybe it will change the culture of city hall, maybe, but its going in the totally wrong direction and moving that ship will take years and getting rid of key department heads. They are also going to collect data, use this tool we know nothing about etc. The bright spot for me is they are talking about increasing the participation of people of color. Of course, this requires a huge culture shift in actually WANTING public participation, again, large ship headed in the wrong direction with meetings held when people can’t attend and obtuse processes no one understands. The last thing they intend to do is change their messaging. Ok, maybe that is all this will boil down to, a public relations campaign to make it look like they care? Sorry for the healthy dose of cynicism, I was just hoping for something a little more substantial than hiring another data analyst and propaganda campaign. Anyways . . . I kinda expect nothing more exciting from the county.

The meeting I went to did prove to be more interesting than I had expected. Only because a new supervisor who I don’t know at all, was kinda of pompous and challenging during the discussion and if I give him the benefit of the doubt, stuck a really large foot in his mouth all the way up to his knee. Supervisors Rusk and Bayrd tried to help him out. I commented about it on my facebook page and then he just dug himself a bigger hole, demonstrating that he might have some issues to work on. I also angered some people, cuz I’m a apparently a bully for holding a mirror up to elected officials. Sure, I may have been a little rude in my comment. IT’S FACEBOOK. But seriously, reporting on something someone said isn’t bullying and if they don’t like me commenting on it, don’t say dumb stuff.

Anyways here’s the audio from the meeting. His comments alone may not be that egregious, but his attitude with his interruptions, condescending questions and incredulousness he expressed in his third interruption to the presentation kinds was shocking to most observers in the room and some of the committee members I talked to afterwards. So, enjoy.

This is a joint meeting between the Public Protection and Judiciary (PP&J) and Health and Human Needs Committee (HHN). Paul Rusk calls PP&J to order, Jeremy Leving calls HHN to order. Sharon Corrigan, the Chair of the County Board introduced the staff from the Joint City and County Public Health Department. She says they put money in the budget last time for County Court and Big Step (jobs in the trades) to start this initiative. She says there is lots of exciting work going on and she introduces Colleen Clark with the county board office and Angela Russell from Public Health. Jenelle Henirich and “Jordan” are also there from the Public Health Department. She says this started with the city working on these issues and the county was working on a little different track, now they can learn from what the city has done. They passed a resolution in 2013 to begin the process at the county to work with teams in the departments. She talks about a letter from the county executive that was sent out. Angela has a powerpoint presentation to talk about what the city did and what they can learn from that.

Angela Russel says they will talk about why they are talking about equity, what the city is doing and what the county can do. She starts off with a quote “If you come to help me you are wasting your time, but if you come because your liberation is bound up with me then lets work together.” She says government tends to do to others, and this is about working with others, and that is what equity is about. They will discuss equity definitions so they all start at the same place, they will talk about data and what they learned from others and what they can do in Dane County and talk about next steps.

Defining equity is a fair and just inclusion in society for all, where all groups can participate and reach their full potential. She shows a unicorn farting rainbos and says this is not what this is about. This isn’t touchy feely stuff, this is stuff to make sure people are able to reach their full potential. She talks about the differences of equality and equity. She says when we talk about equality you are giving equal resources but not getting equal results. Equity looks at it in terms of outcomes, in the slide to make sure everyone can see the baseball game, which requires us to share our resources differently. She asks about how you could get to equity better, didn’t hear what Matt Veldran said, Angela says he was right, he says it was a joke. Clark says the room design is a great example because they have their backs to the audience as they are presenting. She says there could be some change made there. Russell asks how they can take this further, she says since she is short, she is like the little guy in the picture and she will always be dependent on the boxes to be able to see the game, and she says they will look at other ways to to get to equity. She says they have heard a lot about it in Dane County, will Alex Gee, the Race to Equity report and we know that Supervisor Stubbs has taken a lead on some initiatives and we know that the discourse is ripe and there is opportunity to take action. She says the city has looked exclusively at race. She talks about the three components of racism. The individual that is prejudgement, bias or discriminatory actions by that person. Institutional which is policies and practices and procedures that work to the benefit of often white men and to the detriment of people of color. Sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally or inadvertently and right now, we are in an environment where the institutional racism happens unintentionally or inadvertently. The structural is a history and current reality of institutional racism across all institutions. When you combine the institutions then you have a horrible structural problem. She asks if people saw the article in the Atlantic on the case for reparations. It was an incredible example of the structural racism that occurs in our country for centuries (slavery, redlining, etc) that have created structures and systems that have lead to the marginalization of the African American community. That is the difference between individual, institutional and structural. (I don’t think Supervisor Schauer was paying attention during this part, or he didn’t get it.)

Russell moves on to looking at the data, she says we know that the demographics of Dane County between now and 2040 will be changing. She shows a projection that by 2040 40 – 50% of our population will be people of color.

Schauer interrupts and says “Can you tell me what site?” She says it is Policy Link. She explains the organization and the report “Equity is a superior growth model” and that shows why we need to address equity.

Russell continues with her presentation. She shows population projects that show our population growth will be a result of 50 – 75% people of color in the future and if we don’t start to address equity now, as it relates to racial equity, then how are we setting ourselves up to be economically viable in the future. She talks about the Race to Equity data, she says there are differences and disparities across outcomes based on race across many domains (employment, birth to teen moms, health outcomes, criminal justice system and rates of uninsured) so we know there is a lot of data showing we have a problem. She talks about why they are focusing on race, she says it is because they have heard this, the community has spoken, the data has spoken, everyone is familiar with the Race to Equity Report, I am assuming.

Schauer indicates no. He says “some of us haven’t been on the committee very long” Russell says “ok”. Schauer says he was newly elected. Russell thanks him for that and says she made a bad assumption. She starts to explain the report and that is outlined the differences between blacks and whites in Dane County and the disparate outcomes, she starts to go back to a slide, but he says that it is ok, he can look it up, he doesn’t want to slow her down.

Russell says they are focusing on race because the community has spoken, the data has spoken, we are anything but post racial. She talks about a conversation with her friend where he said that he doesn’t even see race anymore. She says that’s weird because I can see you are white and I’m pretty sure you can see I’m black, and that was an awkward conversation and we talked about it. But we know race impacts outcomes. There is “seeing” the race thing and being able to talk about it and also acknowledging the role in how our government is run, how our policies are done and in business and the benefit we all get when we take an exclusive look at racial equity. We have the ability withing government to do it and in her opinion we have an obligation to do it. She has another quote by James Baldwin and she focuses on the last part that says “We made the world we are living in and we have to make it over.” She says Eddie Moore, Jr, the founder of the White Privilege Conference says that systems are working the way they were designed to work, to the benefit of white men. And until we took a really long pause on how our systems are created, the systems are going to have the same core outcome for folks.

Schuer interrupts again. He says “When you say these systems?”
She says “government”.
Schauer “All of government” – have to listen to the audio to here his tone on this.
She says “Lots of it”
He says “That’s, uh, All of government has been set up to effect a bias towards white men”
She says “Historically”
He interrupts and says “Is that what you are saying?” – again, tone in the audio
She says “Historically, I would absolutely argue that”
He says “All of government”
She says “Historically yes, absolutely”
He interrupts again and says “I’ll let you continue” “Understand, well, we’ll talk”
She says “Alright” in one of the most cheerful voices I’ve heard in government lately.

Audio of just this clip here. I was stunned enough by his admission he hadn’t heard of the Race to Equity Report (sort of unbelievable for a person who just ran for office, and works where he does and has.)

Russell continues with some of the lessons learned in Seattle and Multnomah County and Alameda County and the City of Madison. She says that high level support, the leadership of the County Executive and the committees is important because that is how we get the political will and buy in to make this happen. Long term commitment is also critical, we didn’t get here in the last 5 – 10 years, this has been a long standing issue in the history of the U.S. and it is going to take a long time to get us where we need to be. Hopefully not centuries or decades, but it is going to take some time to get to where we need to go. Strategic and systematic use of tools, this comes back to the way we designed government, the communities that are working well to address this use an equity impact tool, where it is an intentional pause of taking a series of questions and asking how it will impact different communities and who do we have at the table when we are making decisions? What are some of the unintended consequences. Capacity building of staff and community, we know that we are going to have to retool or re-prioritize our work. We need to retool ourselves, learn what we don’t know, get skilled up and do that in the community as well. Accountability and transparency via data and reporting. She thinks that is crucial and a key component. She says we can talk about doing things differently, but if we don’t hold ourselves accountable with metrics and data we know that things are not going to change. In the City of Madison one of the key findings was to hire a data project coordinator. To look at baseline data and monitor that over time. Collaboration and coordination with other efforts, we know that government can’t do this alone, we need to do it in coordination with others, it would be presumptuous of us to to think we can do this by ourselves. Recognition of early wins is also crucial, we know it will take a long time, we need to recognize when we have early wins and when we have a misstep and correct that as soon as possible.

As far as the Racial Equity and Social Justice Project, she wants to step back a moment, last fall the Mayor and council issued a resolution of the intent to create and equity initiative and the mayor directed a team to assemble, they submitted a report with 12 recommendations on city operations, policies and the community. The core team is working on the implementation of the proposals and a lot of what they are proposing in Dane County would be based on this in terms of the overall vision. It is a model after what the city has done. Living wage jobs, safe neighborhoods, high quality education, healthy natural and sustainable environment, good public transit, parks and green space, affordable and safe housing and healthy food food should be afforded to everyone. The benefits of growth and change should be equitably shared across the communities, that all people have opportunities for fair and just inclusion in the public processes and decisions. That is getting at community engagement and doing that effectively and that the future is not limited by race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, income, place of birth, place of residence or group statuses. They are thinking of several things for Dane County, equity in infrastructure, operations, budgets, policies, programs and communities. She talks about county infrastructure and she says that means when the county is investing in big public projects, making sure that low income communities of color are at the table. That they have opportunities for some of those jobs. She says they can look at who pays for it, who benefits and who bears the environmental, social and economic impact and who decides. They would ask those questions of themselves on a more intentional basis. Equity in county operations, would be committing that we will get our own house in order in fairness in contracting and grants, fairness in hiring and promotion and also beginning to look at the pipeline of who our workforce is in the next 10 – 20 years, improving county workers skills including all of us.

Heidi Wegleitner asks why she used the word “fairness” in hiring instead of “equity”. She says that speaks to a procedural thing instead of an outcome. Russell says that they are interchangeable in her mind.

Russell says that regarding county staff skills, its not just the employees, but elected officials, committee members, so we are all coming from the same foundation.

Schauer says, again coming from a newbie, that in hiring he wants to know if there is a history in Dane County of sustained EEOC complaints or anything that he needs to know of, have there been documented issues in regard to specific instances of inequity by the people we have hired and the job they are doing. Russell says she doesn’t know the answer to that. Clark says her past work in the office of Equal Opportunities there are case by case issues where you have conflicts and there is an investigation and then management settles those, but it wouldn’t be fair to say it is an on-going big issue for the county, but as we see, if you look at the demographics, our county workforce is going to have to change.

Schauer interrupts (again listen to the tone in the audio) and he says that was not what . . . “that is beyond the question”, his background in employment is pushing forward on discrimination cases on behalf of minority groups and he has taken on race, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation cases into circuit courts, EOC, ERD, all of that, it is very important to him that we have a county that is completely free of that type of overt discrimination and the discussion with regard to the pipeline is important and he thinks that needs to be added here explicitly, because that is where you are talking about the problem going forward. Unless you can point to specific problems that the county has had . . .

Paul Rusk interrupts (to school him) and says that “I understand what you are saying but . . ”
Schauer says that he is not disagreeing with anything you are saying.
Rusk says that the problem is that we have very few people of color who work anywhere in the county. So its not that we are purposely discriminating against people of color, they are just not employed by Dane County and he thinks they are trying to look at different strategies to figure out what we can do so that Dane County isn’t mostly people who look like me.
Schauer, Rusk and Bayrd all trying to talk at once
Bayrd says we don’t have an overt, since you used that word, it is her understanding that there is no overt discrimination going on in Dane County, that is not what this report is about.
Schauer says it is good to know where the problems are and where they are not.

Russell says that it is interesting the overt vs. not. She says a lot of the report is about implicit bias, not overt. If you wanted to look in your free time at the incredible implicit bias assessments that Harvard does, that is really humbling in terms of addressing where your own biases are. A lot of the work they are doing is not about overt racism, but implicit personal, institutional and structural.

Clark says that if he wants specific numbers . . .
Schauer interrupts and says that is not what he is asking
Clark is trying to say he can get them from the office of EOC
Rusk asks them to continue on.
Schauer says “you are doing great!” (Felt like he was patting her on her head)

Russell talks about equity in county budget policies and programs, she says this is wehre the equity impact analysis would be. She says City is drafting one, its two pages of questions, looking at the policy, the desired outcome and who is impacted, who is at the table and unintended outcomes, who will be benefited and who will be burdened. She says it is an intentional pause when we make decisions. She says they will look at unintended outcomes on communities that they might not have intended. Using equity for outcome and performance based budgeting, that is a biggie. She is not sure if they can do that in 12 months, but if we do want equity to be a foundation and be ehlf accoutnable to it, not just in outcomes, but in terms of inputs. Also, we need to look at how communities of color are included in the decision making process. This is a big, big thing learned in other communities that intentional really solid community engagement does make a difference (yay! still my favorite part or this whole thing!) and sometimes that means doing things differently, not always having our government meetings held at the CCB building, going out to the community where people live work and everything else. Equity in county communities – this is about engaging people in Dane County, supporting opportunities for all to participate and prosper. Reframe how county officials and staff discuss race in local media. This is a big one for her, race is being covered a lot in the media, it tends to focus on an individual with overt racism experience, by doesn’t address the systemic problems with how our institutions are built and how we govern and until we get that systems and instutuional impact on equity, we’re not really going to address it head on. Re-framing how we talk about it. We can’t do it alone, we have to align with what is going on in the community.

Bayrd starts to have a question, but holds it until Russell is done. Russell says that an original structure and strategy is to have teams (like the city), the data team will make recommendations about the basesline for accountability. Tools and models would look at equity impact assessment for Dane County would look like for Dane County. Training is exactly what is says, how do we train all staff about what equity is. County community and city partnership, this is acknowledging that we can’t do it alone and have to work with others.

Bayrd asks who is on the team. Sharon Corrigan says they have not been appointed yet. Russell says an invitation to particpate has been sent out, they invited participation and assignments from each department. The talk more about what the groups will do. They are planning a 3 – 5 year strategy. She ends with a slide going back to the point that where we are today is a result of previous actions. “Poverty is not an accident, just like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings” and that is what they are there to do.

Now, they get to questions. Bayrd asks what they can do to help and asks if there is a list of barriers so we know how to access it. She talks about the Allied Drive area being a food desert, Fresh Market showed up with a van, but it didn’t work. She talks about the reasons about why it might have failed, but she asks if our good intentions won’t be more mistakes. Efforts and hard work resulted in nothing. Russell reframes that in terms of community engagement and looking at what works in other communities. bayrd said it was well intended but didn’t realize the layers to the problem, the result is frustrating and people walked away and there were bad results. She is looking for tools to avoid that.

Clark says that is what she like about this is its not projects,b ut a system and framework. Not just a single great initiative.

Jeremy Levin asks about the other counties and what their metrics were. Russell says that Seattle has metrics called ROSA and they have departments that look at it.

Nick Zweifel has ideas about fairness in hiring, he says they are trying hard to hire people of color. He says their jobs require special training and people of color don’t have that kind of training and figuring out how to get them that training. The other is in the RFP work because we hire out a lot of work and we want to give preference to people who hire latinos and people of color, but there was a snag in that because if you have a smaller company vs. a bigger company, how do we work that out to be fair so that one doesn’t dominate over the others. He says the big one is with job fairs and other things they ran into a huge transportation issue. He says that some of the communities don’t have the transportation to get to the job fair or interview.

Heidi Wegleitner thanks them for doing the work because ti is overwhelming and she is glad it is someone’s job to deal with it. She says they are a huge institution and because of the way we are set up we continue to go in one direction that is not helping people in the community and we need to be mindful of this while we pass a budget while we develop the tools, we need to work on parallel tracks, we can’t afford not to. So part of that work is setting up the core team but poverty is up there and its super racialize and it is a race and class, inter-related thing. How in the task force work will they get input and buy-in in that process from the community, so we are not doing unto while we set up oru processes and systems. She says there are no poor people working in county government (hopefully) so how do you incorporate that input.

Russell says we’ll have to figure it out. City did 3 focus groups. They can do focus groups, but without community input, we will just do the same thing. We have to be creative.

Corrigan says that we didn’t emphasize enough the economic costs we all pay, in addition to the real lives it impacts. Discrimination has been in place for generations and we all pay a price, that is important to keep in mind in addition to it being the right thing to do.

Levin asks if the powerpoint could be on the website or added in legistar.

Wegleitner asks about how recruitment is going, they have 4 responses and the deadline is Friday, they are looking for 25. Clark says she will make phone calls after the letter went out. This is also on the poverty agenda this week.

Veldran asks about the 3 – 5 year view. Will the county board be able to do small things in the county budget. Russell says that before they get to the 3 – 5 year strategy, they can start using the equity tool. There will be small things they can do short-term. Veldran asks about the focus groups, will they be done outside of Madison?

Dorothy Krause says that she didn’t understand the letter to be asking for a response, she thought it was for information. How can supervisors fit into this? Russell says a report will be back to the supervisors in the fall. She says they will be getting feedback from us, if you have questions ask. Krause asks if they can be part of the process.

Corrigan says the role of the county board is the policy changes and encouraging work of the departments that we interact with.

Schauer asks if there is something they need to do to show support. Rusk says joint committee meetings don’t happen often.

Bayrd asks about making sure that city residents don’t miss out on county issues, there may need to be some coordination to get city response to county issues.

Adjorn this part of the meeting.

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