Community leaders calling on Arlington Heights to revamp its diversity efforts
A high-profile effort in Arlington Heights to steer toward more inclusive local government and more diverse hiring practices is off to a rocky start.
Some community leaders have expressed formal objections complaining that two virtual listening sessions and a town-hall forum conducted last fall by a Chicago consulting firm failed to get input from the residents the effort purports to reach.
"We're talking about how to include people of color more equitably in our community. However, they neglected to include the voices of people of color in that conversation," said Heidi Graham, president of the League of Women Voters of Arlington Heights, which covers a larger region including neighboring suburbs. "And this can be seen over and over again in what goes on in our governance."
Graham and 21 other community leaders signed an open letter to village officials with recommendations for how they can include minority voices and address the needs of the community's diverse population, which is 84% white, 10% Asian, 6% Latino and nearly 2% Black.
Karen Thomas, of Arlington Heights, a former elementary schoolteacher and community activist who works for a local nonprofit, attended one of the listening sessions where she was the only person of color.
"It was not comfortable for me," Thomas said.
Thomas, a mother of a 15-year-old student at John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, said young people also were not included in these sessions.
"There are a lot of issues going on at the high school," she said. "The students encounter a lot of racial discrimination and instances from their peers, from staff members."
Arlington Heights Village Manager Randy Recklaus said officials welcome the group's input and stressed the "process isn't done yet."
"We are going to be talking about these issues in a variety of ways for some time," said Recklaus, adding, there was participation from people of different races and ethnicities in the forums. "We put it out as widely as we could. We did reach out to community leaders to spread the word.
"This issue is the issue of outreach. How do we get a larger degree of engagement from everyone in our community? I think that is something we are going to be talking about as the report comes out."
The village hired The Kaleidoscope Group, a Chicago-based consulting firm, to research diversity issues and report on its findings. The consultant's initial audit of the village's procedures and policies as an employer and service provider will be released in a report scheduled to be discussed at a Feb. 8 village board meeting.
The Rev. Clyde Brooks, of Arlington Heights and founder of the Illinois Commission on Diversity & Human Relations, gave the village an "F" for its efforts toward inclusion of minorities. He noted representation of Blacks and other minority groups has been sorely lacking and largely absent in the village's roughly 146-year history.
"As I look around, I don't see any sworn officers. I don't see any professionals. I don't see managers that look like me," Brooks said last week. "We are taxpayers. Many have children in the schools. And we would like to see some change."
Blacks represent 28% of the population within the metropolitan area from which the village draws most of its employees, he said.
The letter cites the village's failure to employ Blacks in professional, managerial and sworn positions and appoint them to boards and commissions, and to adopt a supplier diversity program to ensure women- and minority-owned firms are better represented. It also criticizes the village board for not holding managers accountable for hiring only white candidates.
Group leaders urge village officials to take the following actions:
• Modify the scope of Kaleidoscope's work to include intentional outreach to marginalized residents and organizations representing them for feedback.
• Provide transparency on data the village has provided the consultant.
• Share the final Kaleidoscope report in its entirety with residents along with an actionable plan for achieving greater diversity, equity and inclusion.
• Create a diversity, equity, and inclusion commission.