Commission encourages city to hire ‘diversity officer’ - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Commission encourages city to hire ‘diversity officer’

January 23rd, 2021 SanTan Sun News
Commission encourages city to hire ‘diversity officer’

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

A commission of Chandler residents wants the city to create a new position dedicated to tracking diversity and inclusion across the city’s departments.
After surveying hundreds of residents earlier this year, the Chandler Human Relations Commission is urging the city’s leaders to recruit a consultant to assess Chandler’s diversity initiatives and decide whether it might need to make some improvements.
“We want a (consultant) to sort of do a top-down review of what’s in the city and come back with some action items and recommendations,” said Tyler Conaway, a commission members.
The commission believes one of those recommendations could be the inclusion of a leadership position dedicated specifically to the diversity of the city’s workforce.
“Other cities and corporations throughout America have designated chief diversity officers,” Conaway added. “The role of that officer is to coordinate all aspects of diversity and equity as they pertain to the functional departments within a business.”
Other local government entities, like the Chandler Unified School District, have hired diversity officers in recent years in order to address disparities observed in how different demographics are treated.
Conaway, who works for Paypal’s diversity programs, said this type of position can help communicate to the public Chandler’s progress with diversity and can highlight the city’s successes.
“They get out there, they show the diversity in the community, they coordinate media and relevant brand items,” he added.
A citywide survey by the commission indicated Chandler residents has an interest in knowing what the city’s doing to ensure it promotes diversity and inclusion.
“It’s time to move on from events to more quantitative action,” one survey respondent said. “The city should study the latest strategies to provide assistance to marginalized community members.”
Some respondents feel the city should pay more attention to residents with disabilities, the LGBTQ community and those who celebrate non-traditional religious holidays.
Another respondent thinks the city “needs more spaces to share stories so we can all connect on a human level.”
The survey showed 27 percent of respondents did not feel their voice was represented in local government and 49 percent said they weren’t aware of the city’s diversity initiatives.
The survey was undertaken after the city issued a proclamation in June in response to the officer-involved death of George Floyd in Minnesota that asked the commission to engage Chandler residents on issues involving race and equity.
Based on the survey’s results, Conaway and the other commission members came up with a list of recommendations, including the possible creation of a diversity officer position. Other recommendations include revamping the city’s diversity training, evaluating hiring practices, networking with local schools, and organizing more educational forums for the public.
Mayor Kevin Hartke said he appreciated the commission’s recommendations and indicated they will likely come up during the council’s upcoming budget meetings.
“I know that these items will be reviewed and we’ll look forward to working with our staff to see what we can do,” the mayor said.
Since its inception, the Human Relations Commission has been tasked with trying to celebrate the many cultures and communities that exist throughout the city.
The commission’s 11 appointed members are often responsible for networking with Chandler’s organizations, hosting cultural events, and informing city officials of needs they see in the community.
The commission was created during the fallout of a turbulent chapter in the city’s recent history which left many of Chandler’s Hispanic residents feeling targeted and discriminated against.
In the summer of 1997, hundreds of undocumented residents were rounded up across Chandler during a five-day raid of various Hispanic neighborhoods. Many U.S.-born residents were detained and questioned during the roundup due to racial-profiling tactics used by law enforcement.
The incident sparked public outrage across the state and resulted in an investigation into the Chandler Police Department’s partnership with the U.S. Border Patrol to carry out the operation.
Former Police Chief Bobby Joe Harris was reprimanded for how he conducted the raid and Hispanic activists attempted to oust some members of City Council.
The city later paid a $400,000 settlement to resolve a lawsuit filed by some residents who felt their civil rights had been violated during the raids.
“It’s going to take 10, 15 years for people to feel comfortable in Chandler again,” said local activist Ed Delci, a few months after the roundup.
The creation of a citizen-led commission devoted to discouraging discriminatory practices in Chandler was perceived as the city extending an olive branch to a community that had felt betrayed.
But the commission’s roles have evolved since the 1997 roundup, Conaway said, and include representing the interests of citizens from every demographic and social class.
The commission thinks Chandler has a prime opportunity to review how its addressed diversity in recent years, he added, and potentially avoid discovering any blindspots.
“Our hope, ultimately, is for the city to continue to grow in its strengths in this area,” Conaway said.