Elgin City Council makes 'cultural introductions' during unorthodox meeting
It was not your normal city council meeting.
In lieu of their normal spots on the dais at city hall, Elgin council members met Wednesday at Hawthorne Hill Nature Center and held a two-hour committee-of-the-whole training session on "cultural introductions," guided by their diversity, equity and inclusion consultants inQUEST.
Council members were asked to share what community means to them and why they ran for office in the first place. They broke out in smaller groups and talked about their cultural identity with the other members. It was not business as usual.
inQUEST was hired last year to assist the city with a diversity and inclusion program initiated by the city council. They've been meeting with department leaders since early this year.
"The purpose of having this workshop today is to ensure that there's alignment with the council's expectations as we continue moving forward with diversity, equity and inclusion practices within the organization," City Manager Rick Kozal said.
Training similar to what the council members experienced Wednesday ultimately will be pushed out to all city employees.
"In order for inQUEST to begin crafting a program, we wanted to start at the very top," Kozal said. "We're trying to create a culture from all the way up at the top to the part-time employee who is doing groundskeeping, so that this kind of awareness permeates throughout our organization."
The city last year also approved the hiring of a human rights & equity officer, but the position has yet to be filled.
The details of the training and a contract with inQUEST will be finalized during a future council vote. The city has $150,000 budgeted for the training next year.
David Stone, senior partner with inQUEST, said the company takes a customized approach with each of their clients to create a program that matches their goals. He said Wednesday's training is one of the steps used to develop a program for the city.
"I think we agreed upon this iterative approach so we could understand the key structural components, so that we can get a sense of what's already in place and what else needs to be built," he said.
During a roundtable at the end of the session, council members were asked how the conversations they just had can help move Elgin forward. Councilman Steve Thoren said it will start in the council chamber.
"I think we all learned a lot about each other, and I think we all respect each other a little bit more," he said. "And it was a reminder that as different as we all might be, we all shared how much we care about this community."