Lynnwood City Council Race and Social Justice Coordinator discussion heats up
By Noel Pai-Young | Lynnwood Times Staff
Lynnwood Wash. – The Lynnwood City Council brought in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Commission (DEI) to have a vigorous discussion about the Lynnwood Race and Social Justice Coordinator Position in their Feb. 16 work session.
A motion was raised in the Nov. 23 business meeting by Councilmember Julieta Altamirano-Crosby and seconded by Councilmember Jim Smith to delay hiring of the Race and Social Justice Coordinator.
“This presentation is a result of that request,” stated Mayor Nicola Smith.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Commission’s presentation
Different members of the DEI presented their case, sharing about past work they have done and asserting that more work must be continued through the position.
“We’ve partnered with the Lynnwood Police Department to translate material related to immigration issues to remove barriers,” stated DEI Chair Naz Lashgari when stating what the DEI has accomplished. Amongst other actions were collaborating with other city commissions and hosting a workshop.
Response to the presentation
Mayor Smith, in favor of immediate hiring for the position, stated, “it’s time to step up our game and coordinate and collaborate.”
Others were hesitant to move forward immediately. “I was hoping for some new information,” said City Council President George Hurst in response to the presentation. “This is a summary of what has been said before.”
In past City Council meetings during 2020, President Hurst, then Councilmember Hurst, requested more information and a clearer job description for the Race and Social Justice Coordinator. He suggested looking into neighboring cities to get ideas.
“Have you looked at what the other cities have done?” Hurst asked the DEI.
Lashgari shared that Bellevue in King County recently had a seminar regarding race and social justice and that many cities are working toward developing diversity, equity and inclusion departments.
President Hurst expressed openness to the position being filled in time but with caution.
“I don’t want this position to fail,” said President Hurst.
He suggested opening up a Human Services Department for the position to be under, allowing for more accountability and structure around the position.
Changing policy and removing barriers
The Lynnwood Times reached out to the Lynnwood Human Resources Director Evan Chinn to clarify a statement made in the presentation regarding what specific policies will the Race and Social Justice Coordinator change.
The Lynnwood Public Affairs Officer Julie Moore replied in a statement, “We do not have a specific work plan laid out for the new position as of yet,” stated Moore in an e-mail to the Lynnwood Times.
Moore continued, “Part of the role of the RSJ Coordinator will be to get up to speed on the work we’ve done to date through Team REAL (our GARE group), and then provide recommendations on how to proceed. We envision this to be a role that will have a citywide approach and work with all of our departments so the tasks and approaches will most likely be varied based on the topic (policy, program, service, etc.).”
Lashgari also addressed the same question regarding what specific policies will the Race and Social Justice Coordinator change.
“This position is about making sure that our policies and procedures at the city are removing the barriers and are moving with the lens of equity in an anti-racist manner… I think this position is mostly about affecting how we have hiring policies and how we can remove biases and things of that nature.”
The Lynnwood Times reached out to Lashgari to expound on the barriers, hiring policies and biases she referred to, but no reply has been received yet.
Team REAL (GARE group)
Team Racial Equity Advancing Lynnwood (REAL), the city’s Government in Advancing Racial Equity (GARE) group consists of twelve City of Lynnwood employees who took part in year-long training from GARE regarding, “effective approaches for building the capacity of government to eliminate institutional and structural racism and advance racial equity,” according to a Feb. 25, 2020 City of Lynnwood press release.
Rejection of prior 200-person survey
A 200-person survey Councilmember Dr. Julieta Altamirano-Crosby conducted with a random sample asking respondents if they preferred a Race and Social Justice Coordinator or a social worker. The survey revealed a striking 83.5% preferred a social worker. The racial breakdown of the survey, naturally being at random selection, was proportionately representative of Lynnwood’s diverse ethnicity demographic.
More info regarding the survey can be found here.
The Lynnwood Times reached out to Mayor Smith and DEI Chair Lashgari to ask for their thoughts on the survey and if it will be factored into any decision making. Lashgari responded in an e-mail stating:
“The City of Lynwood is going to be conducting a thorough survey that will be considering Lynnwood’s population and the BIPOC communities. To determine the need for Race and Social Justice position I believe we need more than 0.54% of the population’s opinion to determine the DEI direction of the City.”
No response from Mayor Smith has been received yet.
During the meeting, Dr. Altamirano-Crosby stressed the importance of addressing the needs of those who don’t have jobs, as opposed to some of the studies presented by the DEI based on the feelings of those who are employed within the City of Lynnwood.
“I like good intentions, but I’m intentional,” said Councilmember Altamirano-Crosby.
She asked the DEI members if they have gone out to talk to the community to listen to what they need. They admitted that their work or other commitments take most of their time.
Councilmember Altamirano-Crosby said she wants to specifically address Lynnwood residents’ needs, including helping those who cannot afford $80 a month for internet and the many who want access to COVID-19 vaccines. She asserted that she understands the Latino community because she’s part of it. She stressed the importance of taking the time and effort to understand what the Lynnwood residents want and need.
“I’m a public servant, I owe it to my community,” stated Councilmember Altamirano-Crosby.
More research to be done
Councilmember Ian Cotton mentioned wanting to get quantitative data if possible — some ideas he mentioned, if possible, were discovering numbers of unreported racially charged crimes and how many residents don’t feel safe calling the police.
He also expressed a desire to see some hiring policy for the position and to measure outcomes and effectiveness of changes and efforts.
While some councilmembers were saying there needs to be more information before they can give their support to move forward, Councilmember Shannon Sessions
said she doesn’t need any more convincing.
“It’s in the budget… we need to move forward with this,” said Councilmember Sessions.
Earlier in the meeting, the Mayor stated, “we’ve all heard from our constituents that there are still people who do not feel welcome, and so we know that there is a lot of work to do still.”
BDS and Urban Planning $40k contract
BDS Planning and Urban Design Principal Brian Scott and Project Manager Ishmael Nunez proposed a $40,000 contract to conduct a community equity survey.
Their firm specializes in consensus facilitation, inclusive processes, organizational development and place management and will, “gather data from Lynnwood’s diverse community regarding their experience of the city as ‘Safe, Welcoming and Equitable,” according to a slide in their presentation.
The Race and Social Justice Coordinator position will continue to be discussed and residents are encouraged to tune in to City Council meetings via Zoom that can be found here.
Infrastructure and park projects in progress
Councilmember Ian Cotton asked City Engineer David Mach about the 196th Street SW bidding schedule and Councilmember Jim Smith asked Mach how much of Lynnwood residents’ tax dollars are being used in $45 million project. Mach did not have the number present but gave Councilmember Smith his word to follow up with him on it. Deputy Director of Lynnwood’s park department Sarah Olson and Senior Park Planner Monica Thompson briefed the council on Scriber Creek Trail Improvements Project. Phase one of the three-part project, both recreation and transportation related, is being constructed by Sound Transit Lynnwood Link Extension project.
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