Minneapolis takes slow steps toward racial equity

 

Public Works has plan that works

Elizabeth Glidden
Elizabeth Glidden

 

The Racial Equity Action Plan (REAP) has been in planning mode for over a year now. As a follow-up to a story published last year (“Mpls pursues a Racial Equity Action Plan,” June 19, 2014), the MSR contacted Minneapolis City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden for an update on the plan’s progress.

Asked, “How far have we come with the REAP,” Glidden stated, “My original vision of doing a Racial Action Plan was [so] that we would have a planning process, kind of similar to my Climate Action Plan. The mayor’s office started taking over the [steering committee] that was planning the work. We ended up getting to the point [of] identifying a framework for moving it forward and then, I will say from there, have been stalled due to [trying to identify]…the resources to oversee this plan.

“So, at the end of last year, the mayor put in her budget some funding for staff people to open an Office of Equity and Inclusion in the City [government] of Minneapolis. We are still waiting for those staff people to be hired at the City. I think they are about to announce them.

“So, what I have ended up focusing on is making sure that some of our existing work to really create the underlying framework of racial equity in the City is moving forward… That has ended up being how I have focused this year, because we’re still waiting [on information] about how [the Racial Equity Action Plan] might kick off.”

Two positions have been approved. Spencer Cronk, the city coordinator, has hired people to fill the two roles of managers of equity and inclusion. One manager is Julianne Leerssen, who will do the external equity work (such as with the Promise Zone in North Minneapolis). Joyce Stephens, the other manager, will do the internal equity work (such as developing the Racial Equity Action Plan).

Stevens will ultimately be in charge of REAP. Both managers are scheduled to start September 8. Hiring for these positions were advertised at 72 different organizations, including Minneapolis Public Schools, Greater Twin Cities YMCA, Bolder Options, North Minneapolis Workforce Center, CLUES, the Minneapolis Urban League and American Indian OIC (AIOIC).

While waiting on the new hires, Glidden has been working on what she calls “equitable solutions… It is a four-pronged approach of how we are trying to make a big organizational culture change in the City, so that the City employees…are valuing and prioritizing equity in their work.” A few examples of how this is happening are:

  • Departments were asked by the mayor to identify how they will address race in their budget.
  • The business plans for the departments are starting to be publicized, and the city council committees are going to start going over those plans. Each plan will incorporate racial equity work, because they will address the goal of “closing the equity gap” in the departments’ business plans.
  • Addressing equitable solutions in each area such as employment, procurement, race equity assessment tools for policies and programs.
  • Examining how the city works with boards and commissions to help promote racial equity.

Glidden stated that most of the change has happened in the employment area. She said changes that have been made in the last year include:

  • The HR Department has developed a leadership training program that assesses implicit biases that may drive the work of City government leaders. Following assessment, each leader will get a development plan that makes suggestions on behavioral change.
  • A second training will similarly assess those who hire employees.
  • The City, through HR, is looking at the panels that conduct hiring interviews, training them to address their implicit biases so that they do not come through in the panel hiring processes.
  • Glidden gave direction to staff to develop a five-year plan that will address how they will diversify their workplace and remove unnecessary barriers.

Glidden added that the Public Works Department has completely changed how they do their hiring practices. They have gotten a “totally different result” by changing the requirement to be a public service worker one and two. These jobs are the pipeline of getting into the public works system.

In the past, there have been low numbers in the hiring of people of color, but Glidden said, “This year, they hired just under 60 percent people of color, of a class of 50. This department is being used as a model for other departments on how you can change things and improve results.” Chief Human Resource Director Patience Ferguson confirmed the hire rate to be at 58 percent people of color of the 10 people hired.

Ferguson also stated, “Public Works found that even though the requirement to be a public service worker was one year of labor experience and a commercial driver’s license (CDL), many of the applicants were excluded because they did not have the experience or the CDL. So, the City decided to develop a service worker training program held in collaboration with Local 363 Laborers Union Dakota Technical College, which allows the City to invest in 12 weeks of training for workers to be able to get the one-year experience through on-the-job training.”

As for advancing the “Racial Equity Action Plan,” representatives from the City admit that not much has been done yet. But they also insist they are making progress on improving racial equity in Minneapolis even if it may be taking a little longer than expected.

 

We will continue to follow the growth of the plan and report its progress to our readers.

Brandi D. Phillips welcomes reader responses to bphillips@spokesman-recorder.com.