A pair of new positions proposed in Mayor Betsy Hodges’ 2015 budget plan would help take the lead on the city’s efforts on racial equity — and are facing both support and criticism from council members finishing their review of the budget.
The Office of Equitable Outcomes, a new division within the City Coordinator’s Office, accounts for $250,000 of new spending in the mayor’s $1.2 billion budget proposal.
City Coordinator Spencer Cronk said officials have not yet decided how much of that money would go toward salaries and benefits for the two positions, or sorted out the specifics of each position’s duties.
But Cronk said the two new employees would help ensure all city departments are following the same guidelines on everything from hiring processes to decisions about where to make purchases — all with an eye to the city’s goal of eliminating racial disparities. That would include coordination work related to a federal “Promise Zone” designation for north Minneapolis, should the city receive one next year, or on related work if it doesn’t.
“It’s a little bit of a coalition of the willing right now,” Cronk said of the city’s equity efforts. “People really interested and committed to doing this work, council members that care about pushing the racial equity agenda … this would help us focus our energy and efforts on strategies we believe would really move the dial.”
Equity has been a major buzzword at City Hall over the last year, with both the mayor and several new council members making it a central focus of their campaigns. This spring, the council began work on a Racial Equity Action Plan, which had strong backing from council members but drew sharp critiques from others, who said the discussions seemed to mirror other efforts that had failed to amount to changes.
Council President Barb Johnson, who criticized the plan, was also wary of the city’s application for a Promise Zone designation. The designation would provide the city with priority status on its applications for federal help for north Minneapolis programs, among other benefits, but would not come with direct funding.
Johnson, who represents part of north Minneapolis, also singled out the new equity positions as line items that should be a lower priority than funding for additional police officers.
“These are serious things,” Johnson told the Star Tribune. “Way more serious in my book than protected bike lanes and equity positions and all that kind of thing. Our No. 1 priority is public safety.”
Council Member Blong Yang said he’s supportive of the city paying attention to equity issues, but he worries officials still aren’t on the same page about what “equity” means for Minneapolis.
“I think it’s fuzzy,” he said. “I think we have a definition for it, that we struggled with … we’re probably going through the growing pains of what it might be for us.”
Yang said he doesn’t know all the details of the mayor’s plan for the new equity positions but wasn’t convinced they were both needed.
“I don’t want to appear cynical, but I almost think two of them is a bit much,” he said.
But others, including Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, said the positions are crucial to the city firming up what “equity” is and what it can do to improve it.
She noted that similar positions in the City Coordinator’s office for sustainability and the arts have helped the city land grant funding and important partnerships with outside agencies. Now, she said there’s enough momentum building on equity that the city needs some oversight.
“I think there are multiple things that we’re working on right now that have that need for enterprisewide coordination,” she said.
Among them: an effort the city calls “supplier diversity.”
“We want to make sure we are giving our business to entrepreneurs of color, increasing that work,” Glidden said. “It’s quite a tangled mess of primarily state regulation, also some city regulation, and it has been something that many entities, including the state, are working on.”
Glidden said making room for the budget for equity positions makes sense because the city should be able to show people when it’s making real changes.
“We owe it to our employees, to the public, to find out how we’re doing this work well and focus on how we get those results,” she said.
The council will hold its final public hearing on the budget Dec. 10, the same day it will vote.