By Deborah Bailey, Special to the AFRO
Baltimore is one small step closer to addressing generations of inequity inherent in how city government does business, thanks to legislation currently moving through City Council.
The Equity Assessment Program (CCB #18-0223) was unanimously approved by the Baltimore Planning Commission this week. The legislation is a super-sized municipal equity program, requiring all city agencies to address and correct programs and policies leading to disparate outcomes negatively impacting Baltimoreans based on race, gender or income.
“This bill is about making sure the city of Baltimore recognizes our horrible past—being a government that fosters inequity in the city,” Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott (D-2) told the AFRO.
“While this bill will not end those things overnight it will make sure that moving forward we will operate through a lens of equity,” he said.
The Planning Commission recommended several changes to the Council’s equity legislation at its hearing on the bill last week. Thomas Stosur, Planning Commission director, expressed concerns about oversight for equity work involving the entire city. In a policy analysis letter reviewing the legislation Stosur stated, “The Commission is not equipped to provide guidance on equity assessments for such a broad range of City government functions.”
The current legislation as written requires the proposed Equity Assessment Program to be developed and overseen by the Department of Planning.
“Planning does not have the resources to adequately fulfill the responsibilities necessary to make this a meaningful process. The equity assessments should be a rigorous process, which would require significant resources and staffing to develop and administer properly,” Stosur stated in the letter.
“The question that you need to be thinking about is how is the racial equity process embedded in every single decision and process that you do in your jurisdiction? That’s hard work,” said Dennis Chin, director of Racial Equity Initiatives and Narrative Strategies at Race Forward, a social inclusion training, development and justice organization founded in 1981.
Chin said that every city has a unique set of circumstances, but municipalities like Seattle and Minneapolis have been engaged in equity work for years, are making good progress and may provide some direction for cities new to the process.
Several steps must still be taken before the legislation achieves final passage. Each city agency must review the legislation and send their feedback via letter to City Council before June 13 when the bill will go before the Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee for a public hearing.
“Hopefully, my colleagues and I will vote the bill out that night and send it to the Council for a full vote,” Scott said.