Elk Grove City Council adopts workplace diversity audit but faces push back from Mayor Ly, community participants

Ad hoc committee member Kendra Lewis expressing concern on
implementation of the diversity audit recommendation. | 

August 23, 2018 | 

At last night's Elk Grove City Council meeting, a long-awaited audit report on the City of Elk Grove's workplace and hiring practices were presented. While a majority of the city council praised the study, the mayor and several community participants expressed concern about its implementation.

The report was commissioned by the city council following several race-based incidents in the city last year that also raised the specter of the lack of diversity in the City of Elk Grove's workplace. In response, the city council convened a panel of community participants to help it pursue a method to identify a way of addressing the concerns.

As a result of the ad hoc community meetings that were presided over by council member Stephanie Nguyen and Pat Hume, the workplace and hiring practices audit was authorized by the city council. At last night's meeting, the results and recommendation were presented by Miller Law Group, who subcontracted with Berkeley Research Group and Fogbreak Justice.

Although the consultants painted a favorable picture during their presentation, there was conflicting data in the audit that went unaddressed. While overall city employees, the majority of whom are white, expressed workplace satisfaction, among African American and Latino the numbers were not as high.

Click to enlarge. 
In a survey, two-thirds of Black or African American employees either strongly disagree, disagree or are neutral that the city is committed to a diverse workforce. Likewise, two-thirds of Asian and Latino employees either strongly disagree, disagree, or are neutral that the city recognizes the value of a diverse workforce.  

A second mismatch not discussed was the consultants’ decision to use the ethnic breakdown of all of Sacramento County as a benchmark for Elk Grove employees, even though Elk Grove has a more diverse population. Comparing the city employees to the county labor force showed no statistical difference, but a comparison to the Elk Grove labor force could have exposed more relevant data.  

The audit noted that there is “No significant difference between employees [compensation] based on gender or race." However, the average new employee salary for employees hired between April 11, 2017, and August 20, 2018, was $68,141 for minority candidates, other candidates $82,932, $73,309 for females, and $81,236 for men. 

Following the consultants' presentation, the council heard objections during public comment on the recommendations. There was concern that the public had little time to examine the findings that were released to the public last Friday, and the more significant objection was whom within the city staff would be implementing the action plan.

The recommendation, which was adopted by the city council, was that deputy city manager Kara Reddig would be responsible for implementing the plan as part of her regular duties.

Speaking during both public comment earlier in the meeting, and during the hearing on the report, ad hoc committee participant Amar Shergill said the implementation of recommendations critical. He suggested that a new employee with expertise be hired to implement those recommendations, 
 that the ad hoc committee that Hume and Nguyen presided over be reconvened. 

"There is no competency, no expertise within the city to lead this kind of project," Shergill said. "They have never done it before."

Shergill also noted it was unfair to ask Reddig "to lead a project she has no expertise in and then to evaluate her own performance."

Ad hoc committee member Kendra Lewis said during public comment that there had not been enough time to review the recommendations in the report. Lewis also noted concerns on the implementation and necessary follow-up noting some of the city staff have not participated in the last year's race relation meetings nor the ad hoc committee proceedings.

"Several employees, as it relates to some of the community issues that have gone on, have not been in the community. They have not been to some of the community meetings we've had about race, about culture and diversity," she said. "And it is concerning to have staff be in charge when something as basic as coming to a meeting to learn more about how we feel and who we are, is important."

Lewis said given the scope of Reddig's existing job responsibilities, implementation of the audit recommendation should not be placed in her realm. Additionally, Lewis urged to reconvene the ad hoc committee to review the recommendations before they are adopted.   

During their deliberations, the council mostly praised the effort and voiced its support of the recommendations including have Reddig handle the implementation. There was also support for reconvening the ad hoc committee.

"I think it is high-time for members of the ad hoc committee to get back together to do a deeper dive into this report," Hume said.  

In his comments, Detrick said he was not surprised by the report and felt the city has been doing a good job in addressing pay discrepancies and workplace diversity.

"I always felt we were doing a good job, and that is why we hire you guys as professionals to give us an audit to see how we are doing," he said. "Your recommendations will take us from good to great."

Nguyen and Vice Mayor Darren Suen agreed that Reddig should launch the program, but acknowledged that as the program progresses, it might be necessary to replace her.

"Maybe it will be that this needs to be a full-time position," Nguyen said. "I think, for now, we want to move this forward, we don't want to delay this much longer."

Along with recommending that Reddig lead the implementation, the audit also suggested to amend policies to comply with current laws, adopt a diversity statement, develop a community inclusion education program, and perform on-going reviews of the various programs.

Although the council adopted the recommendations and asked for a six-month review, Ly voiced support for having the duties assigned to a specialist, and not Reddig. He also advocated for the development of a standing diversity task force and addressed concerns that the ad hoc committee was not consulted after the release of the report.

"I am concerned that some of the ad hoc committee felt they were not included regardless of what action may have actually happened, or what didn't happen," Ly said. "These are all signs that we need to go back and figure out how to make everyone feel included."

Ly added, "ultimately I would love to see a full-time person direct this."

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