Consultant offers mixed assessment of city’s diversity efforts - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Consultant offers mixed assessment of city’s diversity efforts

October 9th, 2022 SanTan Sun News
Consultant offers mixed assessment of city’s diversity efforts

By Ken Sain
Managing Editor

Near the end of a presentation on the results of Chandler’s long-awaited Diversity, Equality and Inclusion study, one City Council member said it appeared to contain mostly good news.

“From what I’m seeing here, … we don’t have a major issue glaring, systemic racism,” Councilman Rene Lopez said. “There’s groups out there that don’t feel like they’re purposely being excluded.”

Not so, said Regina Romeo, the consultant brought in to explain the results of the study that Council approved in October of last year.

“I wouldn’t say that,” said Romeo, the Diversity Equality Inclusion program leader for CPS HR, the consulting company hired to do the study.

She said that since this is the city’s first DEI study, it provides a baseline to measure improvement. Romeo added that diversity, equality and inclusion comprise an ongoing issue that must continually be addressed.

One major issue not specifically part of the study – but looms over the results and what Council will do with them – is a non-discrimination ordinance. Chandler is the largest city in Arizona without one and council members have been facing pressure to change that.

Romeo said the topic came up often during roundtable discussions with a panel of 25 diverse community leaders who were broken into subgroups of five that met at least twice to discuss specific topics. They also met as the larger group twice.

“The NDO gets its own slide because this came up in pretty much every group,” Romeo said. She said she informed the groups that was a decision for Council and it was not her role to advocate for or against an NDO.

“There were people who were (saying), ‘We need an NDO today, we don’t want to leave this group without having an NDO,’ Romeo said. “And then on the other end, there were people not understanding what an NDO was. And then everything in the middle.”

The final recommendation was for Council to provide an official stance on a non-discrimination ordinance. The issue first came up in the summer of 2020, when the city’s Human Relations Commission called for an NDO.

Mayor Kevin Hartke instead offered a non-binding proclamation, saying Chandler embraces its diversity and discouraging discrimination.

A non-discrimination ordinance would codify stopping discrimination by any local businesses. Usually, any complaints would be addressed and there would be consequences for any businesses that do discriminate. Hartke said during the 2022 campaign he opposed an NDO because he felt such ordinances were too complicated.

The Chandler Chamber of Commerce has called for an NDO and the makeup of the next City Council likely will have an impact on the ordinance’s prospects.

. NDO opponents Lopez and Vice Mayor Terry Roe will leave and be replaced by two NDO supporters, Angel Encinas and Jane Poston. Councilmembers OD Harris and Matt Orlando have indicated their support for an NDO, so they will have enough votes to pass one then.

But that’s still months away and the current Council could to pass a business-friendly NDO that has little in the way of enforcement instead of waiting until a stricter NDO could be considered after Jan. 12.

There were a few parts to the s DEI study. First, CPS HR interviewed top city officials, including council members and City Manager Joshua Wright, then conducted internal and external surveys.

The external survey was posted online for residents, but few replied.

For the internal survey, they asked all city workers to complete the form. Only 32.9% did, which Romeo said was disappointing. They also met with five focus groups with a total of 75 employees participating in.

Romeo said many of the suggestions from the groups, especially external groups, involved actions the city has already taken, such as starting a youth group. The city has a youth commission.

She said the city needs to do a better job informing citizens of its programs and what they are already doing. Romeo also said that no matter how well the city improves its marketing, many citizens are just too busy with their own lives to know what it is doing.

It was the fact that the city is already going many of the things the groups recommended that led Lopez to conclude the results were mostly positive.

The internal employee survey provoked some reaction form council members, especially one finding that showed 13.1% of city employees strongly disagreed or disagreed on key diversity topics. Those topics include whether the city recognizes staff diversity and values it, whether it encourages different viewpoints to share and whether it provided opportunities for people of all backgrounds.

In a related survey, an average 17.6% of city employees who responded felt the city had a clear vision of diversity equality and inclusion, whether it influences city service delivery and whether DEI discussions were promoted by supervisors.

“Thirteen percent of our organization strongly disagrees, or disagrees, that we’re not being the best we can be internally,” Councilmember Harris said. “So what I would like us to do is look further into this and figure out what those concerns are. Why do they feel that way?”

Council concluded the work session by saying the city needs to do a better job highlighting some of the programs that are already in place. Members also intend to talk about how to handle a possible NDO at a later date.

The focus groups had a series of recommendations, including promote discussions of diversity, equality and inclusion in the workplace, develop and communicate a clear vision of it, ensure cultural sensitivity in the workplace, evaluate service delivery through a DEI lens, and promote and expand professional and employment opportunities for diverse communities.

CPS HR also said those recommendations reflected common themes form the employee survey results and should be considered by Council as goals in the formulation of any policy on diversity, equality and inclusion.

The consultant also said the city’s external goals should include partnering with nonprofits to connect resources and enhance city services and “develop actionable/visible responses to identified needs (and) take feedback seriously.”