Elgin council presses city staff for update on diversity work

The Elgin City Council got an update Wednesday about the city's efforts to promote diversity and inclusion for the first time since it stopped working with its last consultant in the wake of social media-related complaints.

Human Resource Director Gail Cohen said the city continues to work on three goals identified with the help of former consultant Denise Barreto: delivering "superior" programs and services to the entire community; monitoring and managing supplier diversity; and building a diverse workforce.

City employees are about 80% male and 80% white, Cohen said. The 71 employees hired since January 2018 are 70% men and 38% minorities; outside of the police and fire departments, which struggle the most with hiring diverse employees, new hires were nearly half women and half minorities, Cohen said.

The fire department dropped its requirement that candidates have 60 college credit hours in the last round of testing in July 2018, but that did not result in more minority applicants. She said police and fire had success with diversity in their youth Explorer programs.

Councilwoman Rose Martinez said she's seen positive changes.

"I do think we should be proud of what we are doing," Councilwoman Carol Rauschenberger said.

Police officers complained in September about Barreto's Facebook posts, including some referencing white women and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Employee training on unconscious bias - the first one citywide - was wrapped up in December by a trainer contracted by Barreto.

Council members Tish Powell and Baldemar Lopez requested the update Wednesday. Powell asked about a time frame for finding another consultant, to which City Manager Rick Kozal replied, "When we find the right one, we will hire him or her."

When pressed, Kozal agreed three to six months is a reasonable time frame.

Cohen said Thursday city staff members are asking for recommendations from other communities. Barreto and the previous consultant were selected without requests for proposals. Whether that will happen next time probably will be based on the number and quality of recommendations, Cohen said.

"We will find a consultant to address our training needs and assess our internal climate," she said.

The city plans to conduct a workplace survey in the fall. The first done by Barreto in fall 2017 showed younger employees gave higher approval ratings than women and minorities.

The city is tracking vendors diversity with new software, Purchasing Director Daina DeNye said at the council meeting. Of about $136 million spent yearly on vendors, about $2 million, or less than 2%, goes to women- and minority-owned firms. "That's unacceptable. I know we can do better," Powell said.

A diversity procurement committee formed in May will work on a formal policy. "We are all committed to reaching out to minority firms in our own spaces," Cohen said.

Lopez said Elgin should do a disparity study, which looks at whether cities have practices that exclude businesses owned by women, veterans or minorities from getting contracts.

Before council members could vote on that, Kozal suggested city staff members give a presentation on how much such studies cost and what they entail.

"That's a logical first step," Powell agreed.

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