Daily file photo by Colin Boyle
Evanston’s equity and empowerment coordinator urged aldermen Saturday to consider a framework meant to ensure the city approaches all policy through an equity lens instead of on a case-by-case basis.
In a budget equity review, Patricia Efiom introduced the goals of the Equity and Empowerment Commission’s proposed framework to aldermen for the first time. If adopted on Jan. 1, the framework would create a seven-step equity process where city staff would approach all policy review by engaging with communities they believe could be negatively impacted.
Helping department directors use an “equity lens,” Efiom said, is a starting point for where the process of creating equitable practices can begin from the “top down.”
“When we address the issues of our most vulnerable communities one case at a time, we continue to perpetuate the inequities in that community,” she said. “Equity is a process, it is not an answer.”
Most aldermen were receptive to the proposed equity framework, which forced them to reevaluate the process by which they wanted to seek equity. Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) said he agreed with Efiom’s top-down approach, which he added he hadn’t considered before.
Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) was also supportive of the framework and said she agreed that the city needs to approach equity in a more systematic manner.
“I love this,” she said. “Everything becomes a little bit more complicated, but in some ways it becomes clearer. I think it’s a great thing for the city. You’re taking some of these issues which I thought were fixed in my brain, and you’re turning them upside down.”
Efiom said the city hadn’t properly engaged with vulnerable groups when drafting the proposed budget for fiscal year 2019, which includes city-wide cuts to fix a projected $7.4 million deficit.
“The blank page is intentional,” Efiom said, as she presented the aldermen with an empty slide. “We don’t have any data to tell us whether this is equitable or not. We’re missing community voices, and we’re missing community partners. We just don’t know.”
Many proposed budget cuts — like those to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Evanston Fire Department — would harm citizens’ quality of life more than initially thought, Efiom said. While the city won’t be able to apply the proposed equity framework to the budget, Efiom still pressured aldermen to consider vulnerable populations as the budget is finalized.
Efiom’s concerns over the budget, Braithwaite said, were similar to resident’s concerns the city had heard during the public hearing portion of the meeting.
“Efiom’s assessment is very in line with the comments and concerns that we’ve heard,” Braithwaite told The Daily after the meeting. “I don’t think the budget was created with the of the broader community in mind. Especially the black and brown population, which is generally the most vulnerable.”
The Equity and Empowerment Commission is expected to present its equity framework to the Human Service Committee on Dec. 3 so it can reach City Council for a vote on Dec. 10.
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