Elgin ends diversity contract but looks to advance the work

The city of Elgin ended its contract with its diversity consultant after more than five years, but officials say they are committed to continuing the work.

Elgin spent a total of $146,000 since May 2011 on diversity consultant Phil Reed of Snap Consulting, whose contract expired in December and was not renewed at the direction of City Manger Rick Kozal.

Kozal, who started the job last August, said other diversity consultants are being considered. The city might end up using multiple consultants who specialize in different areas to provide a variety of perspectives, he said.

"Snap Consulting succeeded in creating an institutional framework that built upon the city's inherent commitment to diversity, helping to establish processes that will enable the city to more readily attain its higher goals," he said. "This next phase will build upon Snap Consulting's work."

A meeting between one new consultant, Denise Barreto, and senior staff members will take place sometime in April or May, Human Resources Director Gail Cohen said. "We will look at the plan that Phil put together and try to find three initiatives to pursue," she said.

Mayor David Kaptain said this might be an opportunity to "jump start" diversity efforts.

But Councilwoman Tish Powell and Bill Williamson, chairman of the human relations commission, said they're not happy a clear plan isn't in place yet.

"I don't want us to lose momentum and I don't want the work that has been done to all be in vain," Powell said.

Data for 2016 showed 76 percent of the city's nearly 800 employees were white and 16 percent Latino, with even less diversity among top managers. Elgin residents are about 44 percent Latino.

Reed worked with a diversity committee that included Williamson and others. The committee's main accomplishments were giving direction on improving the interview process, such as with a more diverse hiring panel, and creating "score cards" with metrics to track progress for various diversity goals, Williamson said.

"Now it's just a question of what are we going to do with the stuff (Reed) provided us," Williamson said.

Reed said it's all about taking action.

"They're at the point where it takes courage to take the work and transform it into the decision-making process," he said.

The city did apply the committee's interview recommendations in the search for an assistant fire chief that ended with the promotion of Robb Cagann in February, Cohen said. The score cards had just been finalized when Reed's contract ended, and should be reviewed soon by Kozal or senior staff members, she said.

Cohen cited other diversity accomplishments under Reed's guidance, such as providing training for all police officers, changing hiring criteria for police and fire, creating the Fire Explorer program, participating in a workforce development program through Elgin Community College, and hosting a meeting with the U.S. Minority Contractors Association.

The city also is working on having vendors self-identify as minority-owned or women-owned, she added.

Powell and Williamson also criticized former City Manager Sean Stegall, saying he publicly supported diversity efforts but did little behind the scenes. "I did express (to Stegall) my frustration with the lack of leadership from the manager's lack of participation," Powell said.

Stegall declined to comment, saying he's focused on his work as town manager in Cary, North Carolina.

  Some Elgin officials are unhappy a clear diversity plan is not yet in place, after a diversity consultant's contract was not renewed. John Starks/
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