With the goal of making the city more welcoming to all, the Edmonds Diversity Commission presented a list of policy recommendations to the Edmonds City Council during the council’s Tuesday, Oct. 16 business meeting.
The work was inspired by two key components of the diversity commission’s mandate: First, to recommend to the mayor and city council diversity opportunities to promote programs, and provide guidance to assure an accessible, safe, welcoming and inclusive government and community. And second, to support, challenge and guide government and the community to eliminate and prevent all forms of discrimination.
The first task was to get a better understanding of city government and its leadership, said Commission Vice Chair Donnie Griffin, who led the presentation, accompanied by Chair Diana White. To that end, the commission’s Policy Committee interviewed seven city department heads, two city councilmembers and the mayor.
The four-member committee collectively spent 100 hours during the past 15 months conducting interviews to engage city representatives in meaningful conversations. The exercise provided insight into how the city runs. “It was very powerful,” Griffin said.
In sharing the commission’s policy recommendations based on the committee’s work, Griffin started by pointing to “several discriminatory incidents” that have occurred in Edmonds in recent years, including a noose found at a Point Edwards construction site, swatiskas painted on cars, racist grafitti at Madrona K-8 School and a parent’s concern that a Meadowdale Elementary homework assignment perpetuated segregation.
In addition, there was a racist incident reported at the recent Edmonds Write on the Sound conference, he said. According to City Economic Development and Community Services Director Patrick Doherty, who provides staff support for the commission, a Write on the Sound attendee reported in an email that on Saturday, Oct. 6, a Caucasian man “leaned out of his royal blue car and loudly yelled the ‘ N” word at me” as she was walking toward the Edmonds Theatre. The woman said that “due to safety concerns,” she left immediately and did not return to the conference on Sunday.
The latest report illustrates that “these incidents really don’t go away,” Griffin said. “It’s just a matter of, when people come to our community or they come to work for us, how do they feel? Do they feel we are in an inclusive community, a community that cares about them, a community that will root out discriminatory and bias-related information?”
Griffin then shared the following five committee recommendations:
1. The first recommendation states that Edmonds should do “all that we can to create visibility of a caring community which embraces inclusiveness, equity and diversity.” The key word, he added, is visibility. It’s important to highlight as a community value throughout Edmonds “that we seek to be free of discrimination, recognizing that all people are unique, respected and embraced in their differences,” he said.
To accomplish this, “we really have to be creative,” Griffin said. Among the commission’s ideas: Developing stickers and signs using the Diversity Commission logo and passing them out to local businesses and installing diversity flags on light poles citywide and at city boundaries, to show inclusiveness to all who live and visit here. This include reaching out to neighborhoods beyond the Edmonds Bowl, which comprises less than one-fifth of the city’s population, he noted. In addition, the city could install “Diversity is Embraced Here” signs at entryways to the city.
“We have all the signs that say ‘Hey, Rotary Club, Hey, Exchange Club,'” Griffin said. “What if we also had something that said ‘We’re a diverse community and you’re welcome here.'”
2. Describing the second recommendation, Griffin noted that some of the city department heads and other employees interviewed provided examples of inappropriate, bias-related behaviors and interactions in various city departments. To minimize the chance of such incidents being repeated, the commission recommends it partner with the city’s employee wellness committee. “This partnership would allow the diversity commission to introduce diversity education as part of the city’s existing health and wellness program,” he said.
This partnership would give the diversity commission an opportunity to reach many employees and their families, many of whom may not have had an opportunity to engage in this issue. Implicit and explicit bias education should be included in each employee orientation, and the department directors who make hiring decisions should also be required to attend such training, he added. The commission also recommends that the city’s human resources director work with the commission’s Partnership Committee to ensure the city is attracting a diverse range of applicants.
3. The third recommendation is to affirm to citizens and city employees that Edmonds is committed to following through on discriminatory and/or hate crime reports, from first report to resolution. “It is imperative to have in place transparent, accessible, and safe and secure protocols,” he said. As an example of why this is important, he pointed to the Feb. 4, 2018 incident at Harvey’s Lounge. A 45-year-old female employee of the Highway 99 bar was arrested on malicious harassment charges connected to racially motivated threats involving two African American teenagers.
“What we don’t know today is how that matter got rectified,”Griffin said. “Many folks have moved on except for the family involved in that situation. And when she called to ask what happened, I don’t know who has an answer for her. I certainly don’t.”
(Since the arrest, My Edmonds News has been following up regularly with the Snohomish County Prosecutors Office regarding whether a decision has been made to charge the Harvey’s employee in this case. Responding to an email Oct. 17, a prosecutor’s office paralegal said the case “is still pending for a charging decision.”)
Making sure that these outcomes related to discrimination/hate crimes are communicated will assure the public that such incidents “will be appropriately handled in a result-specific, transparent and impartial manner,” Griffin told the council.
4. The fourth recommendation is creation of a task force to review existing policies and procedures and make recommendations for changes to the mayor and city council, with an annual review. The goal is to ensure that reporting and follow through is “timely, visible, accessible, results-specific, transparent and impartial,” he said.
5. As the demographics of the city change, the commission and city council should engage in a leadership vision and regular dialogue around diversity, equity and inclusion, including at the city council retreat, Griffin said in describing the fifth recommendation. An outside consultant should be hired to review city diversity, equity and inclusion policies, and commission is also requesting increased staff support for the Diversity Commission and its programs and activities.
The goal is to inspire conversations and work to make the city more welcoming, Griffin said.
“Working around diversity, equity and inclusion is really hard stuff, as our committee has learned,” added White, who then noted that the Edmonds City Council has already tackled some tough social issues, including a plastic bag ban and requirements for safe gun storage.
“We really feel like, in order to make an impact, we need the council to take a bold step,” she said.
“Great recommendations — you’ve given us a lot to think about,” responded Councilmember Tom Mesaros, who thanked the commission for “challenging our thinking.” Following up on the commission’s second recommendation to work with the city’s wellness committee, Mesaros suggested also working with the wellness committee at the Edmonds Senior Center.
Councilmember Dave Teitzel asked White and Griffin whether the commission has considered working with the city’s newly formed Youth Commission, noting that during a presentation last year female students at Edmonds-Woodway High School reported being victims of sexual harassment.
Griffin replied that while the commission hasn’t yet done Youth Commission outreach, he added that the most common type of discrimination reported among City of Edmonds employees “was around gender.”
“We have lots of work to do in that area,” he added. “If we had greater bandwidth, I think we could get a lot done.”
Also following up on recommendation 2, Council President Mike Nelson and Councilmembers Adrienne Fraley-Monillas and Diane Buckshnis suggested the council should investigate the incidents of bias-related behavior that the policy committee discovered during their city interviews.
Griffin replied that the purpose of the interviews was not to try “to find incidents,” but rather to learn from department heads regarding “how they do their jobs.” The ultimate goal is to develop a competency among employees and supervisors on how to address bias-related behavior on the job, he said.
“People don’t know what they don’t know,” White added. “And some of this is completely unintentional. I think what we are trying to bring here is a set of recommendations on how we can learn to do more, and do better. Our intent is really not to get anybody in trouble.”
“This is a lesson for all of us. We need to speak the same language in diversity, equity and inclusion,” she said.
— By Teresa Wippel