Elgin to offer unconscious-bias training to all employees

The city of Elgin is moving forward with its diversity and inclusion goals with a plan to revamp its boards and commissions - including adding student representatives - and offering a citywide employee training on unconscious bias next month.

Consultant Denise Barreto gave the city council an update Wednesday night after her initial presentation in January.

Barreto said she and two city staff members, one from the police department and one from human resources, will conduct bias training for city employees in September.

A new task force comprising 11 city employees from different departments is examining the city's programs and services in light of feedback given by residents in a survey done last year, Barreto said.

The city launched a new procurement software in June that will allow monitoring of diversity among vendors, Barreto said. Businesses have the option to say if they are women- or minority-owned, and the city then verifies that, she explained. Councilwoman Tish Powell asked that the city's business license application also ask owners to self-identify.

When asked how the work is progressing, Barreto pointed out the city has dealt with a lot since January, including a fatal police shooting in March and the former police chief leaving for a new job.

"It seems like Elgin keeps me on my toes a little bit more than other areas where I work," she said.

In a related presentation, Karina Nava, a management analyst for the city, gave the city council an overview of recommendations regarding the city's 23 boards and commissions, including turning the bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee into a work group for the sustainability commission.

Currently there are 141 volunteers serving on boards and commissions, and 11 vacancies, Nava said. The city plans to revamp its recruitment strategy, including by targeting social media and community events, and add customized questions to online applications.

"We haven't been doing enough to encourage new volunteers," Nava said.

"I'm glad something is being done," Councilwoman Rose Martinez said.

The city wants to add high school student representatives to several of the advisory bodies, a topic first discussed last year. Those include the parks and recreation advisory board, the sustainability, human relations and heritage commission, and a soon-to-be-renamed image awards committee. The cultural arts commission has had a student representative for several years.

That will be "a great training ground for young members of the community to step into these positions permanently as they get older," Councilwoman Tish Powell said.

Councilwoman Carol Rauschenberger said she'd like the city council to get yearly reports from boards and commissions, and suggested ensuring each advisory body has a budget. Councilman Terry Gavin said that's not necessary, although he agreed a revamping is necessary.

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