Dane County Board Equity Initiatives gain momentum
Press conference highlights next steps
by A. David Dahmer
“I'm here today to tell you that when it comes to racial disparities problems and the status quo, it is not acceptable,” said Dane County Supervisor Shelia Stubbs. “I'll be honest with you. It's time to have an action plan.”
Stubbs, the only African American on the County Board and the only African American woman in an elected position in Dane County, announced that Dane County is moving forward with a package of equity initiatives to address continued racial disparities at a press conference March 31 at the Urban League of Greater Madison.
“We have 17 co-sponsors and we will focus unprecedented County resources on decreasing the racial disparities in the County,” Stubbs told the crowd. “Politicians are very good about talking about certain situations, but I'm done. I'm through. I'm no longer going to talk about what we're going to do about racial disparities. It's time to get up and get some work done here in Dane County as we talk about racial disparities. We have dedicated, hard-working public servants working here in Dane County and if we all [work] together and put our thoughts together and roll up our sleeves and look at the issue from every angle, then I know that we can and will have a real impact in Dane County.”
Stubbs’ resolution would create a committee of staff members from a number of county departments, the idea being to identify policies that contribute to racial disparities at all levels of county services. Stubbs introduced the resolution in early March. It is the second resolution introduced by the County since the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families released its Race to Equity report in November.
“It hurts me to give you these numbers but in Dane County, African-Americans are 5.5 percent more likely to be unemployed than whites.” Stubbs said reading from the Race to Equity report. “Five percent of Dane County's white children live in poverty but 75 percent of African-American children do. Sixteen percent of Dane County white students don't graduate but half of the African-American children don't.
Stubbs added that African-American juveniles are six times more likely to be arrested than white juveniles.
“Racial disparities touch every moment of our lives. We need to enhance equity through effective and active engagement of communities that are directly impacted by County policies,” Stubbs says. “We need to engage the residents and think about all of the partnerships. We need to analyze and highlight the inequalities of Dane County. We need to collect and we need to analyze key indicators in multiple sectors using the Race to Equity Report as a starting point.”
The resolution forms a task team that represents nearly every County department, Stubbs said. The measure would assemble a staff team of representatives from departments including but not limited to the Office of the County Board, the Office of Equal Opportunity, the Department of Administration, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Land and Water Resources, the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, the Department of Planning and Development, the Department of Public Works, Highway and Transportation, the Sheriff’s Office, and the Veteran’s Services Office.
“Right now, it is time for all hands on deck — we will have conversations with every department. We want to move equity issues forward in Dane County,” said Colleen Clark Bernhardt, Dane County's equity coordinator. “I think folks can make the argument that this is the morally right thing to do. The County has to do the right thing, but there is also an economic imperative to do what is right, too.”
In early February, the city of Madison launched a similar initiative to inequities in its operations.
The measure has been approved by the county’s public protection and judiciary committee and still needs approval from the executive committee, health and human needs committee and the public health board before it can be voted on by the full board.