San Rafael, CA – As tough as it is to discuss, racial inequity has been woven into the fabric of communities all across our country. The County of Marin has spent years trying to level the playing field for all residents, and now it has taken a public step to address it formally with a Racial Equity Action Plan.
With Chantel Walker of the Human Resources Department looking on, Assistant County Administrator Angela Nicholson presents the Racial Equity Action Plan to the Supervisors on April 25.
The Marin County Board of Supervisors adopted the plan at its April 25 meeting and will work with County staff as it prioritizes racial equity, engages residents, strengthens community partnerships, and re-establishes itself as an employer that places equity among its highest goals. Marin is one of the first counties in California to formalize such a plan.
Supervisor Kate Sears, the Board’s point person on equity issues, is among the employees participating in the second County team to discuss race in government through the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE). She called the plan a “tremendously sophisticated document” with achievable goals.
“Each of the steps sends us forward in a way that’s extremely thoughtful,” Sears said during the Board meeting. “… We’re rolling now, we’re implementing and we’re getting a lot of people engaged.”
Through GARE, the cohort members learn how to normalize conversations about race, develop new policies within their own departments and agencies, and become leaders in recognizing and eliminating structural racism.
“Marin is breaking new ground and one of the jurisdictions in the lead,” said GARE Director Julie Nelson. “In the Bay Area, because of the large number of jurisdictions involved, we’re really starting to change the overall expectations of government through the dialogue that’s taking place. There is more of a shared understanding of what racial equity is and the shared tools that are available. We applaud the progress you’re making in Marin. To have the plan adopted, it’s a great example for others not only across California but across the country.”
Assistant County Administrator Angela Nicholson said the plan clearly lays out community partnership, initiatives, metrics and deadlines in reaching equity goals. She and other County employees discussed equity initiatives and GARE with the Supervisors during the first day of the County’s budget planning workshops on April 24. Representatives of the GARE cohort and the County’s Leadership Academy also spoke about the challenges of openly discussing a sensitive topic like race with fellow employees.
“We have acknowledged that inequity has been baked into government structure through the years, and this gives us a tool to address it in our community,” Nicholson said. “We need to work with the public and our employees to ensure that we represent the diversity and values of our community.”
In the past decade, the Board of Supervisors has included equity among its “Four E’s” of ongoing focus (equity, economy, education, environment) and tries to assure that even its most routine actions positively influence at least one of them. Also, equity was listed as a focal point in the 2016 State of the County update as income disparity and discrepancies in life expectancy based on ZIP codes continue in Marin. The County is developing a social equity calendar, leadership projects related to equity and online resources to share with members of the public and employees.
The vision of the County’s 5 Year Business Plan, adopted in 2015, is to become a more adaptive organization where engagement, learning and leadership at all levels was encouraged. Diversity and inclusion were singled out as a focus area in that plan, and the County is rolling out cultural intelligence and structural racism training for every employee this summer. Programs are underway to increase gender and ethnic diversity on hiring boards and to create a diversity tool kit for all recruitments, including openings for top administrators. A Racial Equity Work Team will assure that all County employees are trained to recognize inequities in public programs and that all artificial or real barriers to employment are removed.
“You start with race, but you don’t end there,” said Roger Crawford, Assistant Director of Human Resources. “You use it to recognize other inequities in our society. Having a racial equity tool is an important way for a government to evaluate programs and assure that there are not unintended consequences. In the past year, we have developed structure and leadership within our staff that will continue to pay off.”