Summit County should create a new office to promote racial equity.
The county should start collecting more data to better track its equity efforts.
And, if the county is successful, it can serve as a model for other agencies.
These were among the findings of a report released last week as part of the work of a Summit County committee exploring what changes can be made to address structural and systemic racism. The report found the county has made progress in addressing racism and promoting equity, but more work needs to be done.
The report says the county’s minority staff are in a narrow salary range, with notably less representation among higher salary levels, and that job, promotion and contract opportunities are limited by a lack of transparency and accessibility.
“It’s really hard work. Work can sometimes be very uncomfortable. And I would go so far as to say very frustrating, but it’s still work that needs to be done,” said Veronica Sims, Summit County Council member and co-chair of the committee. “This work is not an indictment of any individual, group, etc. But it is about the unjust systems that have continued to harm beloved members, segments of our community, in particular black and brown communities, and this harm also includes educational, economic, social, spiritual, emotional, legal aspects, resulting in a huge negative impact on the health, safety and general well-being of these communities.
Summit County Council declared racism a public health crisis in June 2020 amid nationwide protests against police brutality and structural and systemic racism following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd.
The county resolution highlighted disparities in income, wealth and health between black and white residents and blamed racism for disproportionately high rates of homelessness, incarceration and poor health outcomes. education and health, as well as economic hardship.
Sims – the original sponsor of the legislation and the county council’s only black member – and Elizabeth Walters, county council chair and at-large representative – are leading the work, which focuses on how the county can improve internal policies, Practices and Procedures to Foster Anti-Racist, Diverse, Equitable and Inclusive Operations or ADEI for short.
Summit County is looking internally
The first phase of the process, with a report published in December 2020, was prepared by Sims and Walters. They focused on an internal review of county operations, using dialogue and data analysis, highlighting work in progress that is not well known, efforts that have slowed or stopped and should be restarted, and immediate actions.
Sims calls it “the three T’s”: “Are we bragging it more? Are we tweaking it? Or are we throwing it away?
The report says the “most startling finding” is the “total absence or sporadic collection” of data the county serves on — particularly racial data.
The 27 members of the Special Review Committee began working in early 2021 to find solutions and discuss with residents. Later in 2021, the county hired Baltimore-based, minority-owned UPD Consulting.
The second phase of the work, with a report released last week, includes data analysis, staff surveys, interviews, focus groups and document review to assess county departments and agencies.
The UPD said in the report that it intended to work with the county to assess where its agencies needed to improve ADEI results; identify priority changes; and developing action plans for implementing the strategies.
But the UPD said the scope and focus of the project has shifted to a deeper dive into evaluating internal operations, and a similar level of focus on external programs, such as housing, criminal justice and education, would occur in the future.
“The rationale for this approach was twofold. First, the county is itself a major employer with the ability to directly impact the lives of thousands of employees and their families by improving operational practices,” the report states. “And second, in the county’s efforts to get area employers and service providers to improve their practices and the results of ADEI — organizations that are not directly accountable to the county government — it is imperative that the county publicly demonstrate that it is getting its own house in order. also.”
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The process used the UPD’s “4Cs Equity Implementation Framework”, which includes community (how inclusive the organization is), engagement (the values an organization believes in and defends), culture (the actions it prioritizes) and climate (the results it achieves, regardless of what it says and does).
The work included analysis of data on human resources, purchasing and budgeting; a staff survey of 827 county staff; 20 interviews and focus groups, including with staff of color, contractors, managers and general staff, with a total of over 70 people involved; and a review of more than 50 documents related to county practices. This included human resources, resource allocation, budgeting and strategic planning documents.
UPD highlights Summit County shortcomings
Other findings of the report include:
• Summit County’s lack of a clear vision and commitment to anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusion goals limits shared understanding, implementation and ownership across county departments and agencies. Summit County.
• Awareness, understanding and confidence in internal practices aligned with ADEI advancement vary significantly among staff across racial groups.
• ADEI initiatives within Summit County government lack clear ownership to ensure continuity, have limited collaboration across departments, and are constrained by laws and regulations.
• Analysis was limited due to a lack of data collection and disaggregation of data by demographic categories.
• Employee experiences vary across departments and racial and ethnic groups, but many see compelling incentives for being a county employee that supersede racial equity concerns.
• Staff of color are in a narrower salary range, with less representation among higher salary levels. Staff at the higher end of the pay scale are generally more experienced. Some of the roles require certain levels of education while others are more related to experience.
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UPD recommends county changes
The UPD recommended several changes for the county to better address equity issues.
• Address internal operations first to serve as a model for other agencies.
• Create a Summit County Equity Office to lead interagency and community collaboration.
• Leverage cross-agency collaboration to achieve a common vision.
• Create a formal procedure for collecting data, including on employee experiences, workforce composition, funds spent on equity initiatives, minority business contract payouts, and programs contracts/staff pipeline.
The final phase begins soon
The third and final phase should begin in the coming months.
Sims and Walters put together a small group to work on a vision and goals for the county, as well as a longer-term strategy for ADEI measures.
“It’s a work in progress,” Walters said. “By next month, we will convene the first small task force meeting to launch this vision and set goals to make Summit County a place that truly embodies the values of anti-racism and diversity, equity and inclusion we all hold. . And, I think we will hopefully be very proud of the work this county does and the way we lead in this space. But that won’t come without continued hard work and continued accountability to ourselves.