Ann Arbor is the eighth most economically segregated metro area in the U.S., but a new Washtenaw County ordinance proposes to address that through a variety of changes within the county as an organization.
As part of its One Community: Advancing Racial Equity in Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County initiative, the county is hosting feedback sessions in an effort to seek input from residents on its draft racial equity ordinance. The second racial equity ordinance feedback session was held Thursday, July 19, at Parkridge Community Center, 591 Armstrong Dr. in Ypsilanti. County commissioner Felicia Brabec and racial equity analyst Anna Lemler presented background information on the initiative, shared an update on its progress, and collected feedback from residents.
The draft ordinance was presented to the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners on June 7, with the hope of being approved at the board's Aug. 8 meeting. It declares the county's intention to focus on and address issues of inequity, particularly racial equity, when considering aspects of county government such as hiring, training, and budgeting.
The draft ordinance says it would establish an Office of Racial Equity to target current inequities, "many of which are sustained by historical legacies, structures, and systems that repeat patterns of exclusion."
The draft ordinance requires individual employees to participate in ongoing anti-racism and implicit bias training. It also requires entire departments to establish a Racial Equity Action Plan with short-term and long-term goals to help them advance equity internally and through their work in the county. The draft ordinance also calls for all policies and budget items before the Board of Commissioners to undergo racial equity review.
During the feedback session last Thursday, one of the most common concerns was whether or not the county and its employees will actually be held accountable for implementing the ordinance. Some residents recommended that employees participate in related equity-focused training at least twice a year. Others suggested requiring employees to sign a contract outlining expectations in regards to equity.
The first feedback session took place on July 9 at the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. 5th Ave. in Ann Arbor, and the next one will happen tomorrow, July 26, at 5:30 p.m. at the Chelsea District Library, 221 S. Main St. in Chelsea.
Brianna Kelly is the project manager for On the Ground Ypsi and an Ypsilanti resident. She has worked for The Associated Press and has freelanced for The Detroit News and Crain's Detroit Business.
Photos by Brianna Kelly.