City explores possibility of staffer devoted to issues of equity

Nora Shelly, City Editor

A new position could be created within Evanston government starting next year that would work exclusively toward increasing equity in the city.

The staffer, called the equity and empowerment coordinator, would look into all city practices, including hiring and how the city enforces laws, city manager Wally Bobkiewicz said. The new position, which was included in the 2017 proposed budget, would be focused both on internal and external operations, Bobkiewicz said.

“The issues of equity and empowerment are pretty wide ranging,” he said.

Cicely Fleming, the president of Organization for Positive Action and Leadership, said she would like to see the coordinator focus on racial equity.

“When we think of what equity is about, (it’s) working with the population who is kind of at the bottom, bringing them to a more equal level,” she said. “The idea of equity is really focused on race.”

Fleming, who is running for Ninth Ward alderman, said work with racial equity would also serve to help other underrepresented or disadvantaged groups, but, if the coordinator’s focus was too broad, race might “get lost.”

Bobkiewicz said the city is looking to address the process and procedures the city has in place for issues such as construction permits and park uses. Additionally, the coordinator would look into how the city can best partner with outside organizations and individuals to get “a sense of what our larger community wants,” Bobkiewicz said.

“We want to make sure that we’re hiring folks that are representative of the community,” he said. “Then there are issues … (of) making sure that we have resources citywide, that we expend resources in a way that then benefits all members of our community.”

In the job description, duties of the coordinator include working with community partners to develop new programming that would “increase equity and empowerment in underserved
areas of the City.”

Additionally, the coordinator would be expected to work with underrepresented groups and be the liaison between those groups and city staff, as well as developing plans for the city to work toward eliminating racial disparities.

The coordinator would also work on ensuring equity between city staff in pay and benefits.

Assistant city manager Marty Lyons said at last week’s city council meeting the coordinator’s work would add to the city’s STAR program, which is a checkpoint system the city uses to encourage work in environmental sustainability and community wellbeing.

The city needs to do more than just talk about equity, Lyons said.

“What is critical to us over the next year will be how we enact it,” he said. “That’s where you go from concept to process to results, and that’s the path that we’re on.”

Bobkiewicz said that the city is looking for a new hire, rather than re-assigning a current employee, because they wanted to make sure the coordinator had the appropriate knowledge background for the work.

The empowerment part of the job would focus on making sure all Evanston residents could involve themselves in the governmental process, Bobkiewicz said.

“We can make sure all residents have an equal place in what we’re doing,” he said. “That I think goes into … making sure that everyone has information that they need so they can actively involve themselves in the process of government.”

The coordinator position is included in the 2017 proposed budget, which council will discuss in the coming weeks and will vote on toward the end of the year.

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Twitter: @noracshelly