ROCKVILLE —The Montgomery County Council met to discuss the status of their Racial Equity and Social Justice Initiative.
During a regular session on June 11, the council received a briefing from the Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO) and Jupiter Independent Research Group concerning the county’s progress on racial equity in the area.
The briefing included an OLO report called “Racial Equity in Government Decision-Making: Lessons from the Field,” which was published in September 2018. The report compiled results from municipalities such as Seattle; King County, Washington; and Portland and Multnomah County, Oregon, among others, of efforts to increase racial equity.
The council was also briefed on a report called the “Racial Equity Profile for Montgomery County,” which was released on June 11.
According to the briefing, which can be read online, the county council asked OLO to complete a baseline, or starting point, report that describes the disparities between race and ethnicity across a series of measures. The report was due on May 31 of this year; OLO worked with Jupiter Independent Research Group, a Silver Spring research organization.
The report notes 10 measures for which OLO and Jupiter collected data. These included indicators for education for grade levels K-12 and higher education, for data on home ownership, for criminal justice and transportation, among other measurements.
“The data compiled in the ‘Racial Equity Profile for Montgomery County’ demonstrates consistent disparities in outcomes across several policy areas, generally showing that white residents experienced the best outcomes for the vast majority of measures considered,” the report summary stated.
Elaine Bonner-Tompkins, who serves as a senior legislative analyst for the county at OLO, noted that according to American Community Survey data points compiled by the Urban Institute, Montgomery County has relatively common levels of high school completion across race and ethnicity, but there are wide disparities in unemployment, income, homeownership and poverty..
“In our report, we reviewed efforts among seven jurisdictions for advancing racial equity in government,” Bonner-Tompkins said. “So, for jurisdictions that are taking the lead to advance racial equity they have normalized conversations, they have trained employees to have a shared understanding of race and racism, there are developed public education campaigns and websites on equity efforts.”
J. Vincent Egan, principal investigator at Jupiter Research Group, highlighted some of the key findings from the report.
“One of the most-dramatic statistics is children in foster care here in the county, that was one of the sharpest disparities,” Egan said. “(another area of note) is that blacks had the highest incidence of not owning a vehicle.”
Tiffany Ward, who serves as community racial equity manager for Montgomery County, expanded on Egan’s points.
“As Dr. Egan already shared, having no vehicle, black residents are also more likely to have moved less than one year ago and then to also have poor health outcome metrics, where latino residents have worse outcomes than white and black residents,” Ward said. “That includes no high school diploma, not having a college degree, not being in management occupations and also not having health insurance metrics.”
She also noted, however, that following racial equity listening sessions here in the county, her office received inquiries from local civic organizations about how to facilitate conversations about race.
“One of the ways I would like to see this conversation continued on the housing committee is on zoning and how zoning plays a role in perpetuating racial inequities,” said Councilmember Hans Riemer. “You know the history of zoning, as we know in many ways, was part of the government’s deliberate efforts to segregate communities, to foster segregation. It would be great if the county executive would get on board with some of the changes we’re trying to make to housing policies that are intended to really mitigate against that.”
Riemer added that he would like to see an initiative for zoning that is modeled after the one in Seattle, Washington, which would help the government understand the impact of their housing policies.
Councilmember Gabe Albornoz commented on the report’s recommendation that a position be created to supervise equity and inclusion efforts within county government.
“While I do concur that having a position in the executive branch level that is overseeing these efforts to ensure that we are moving in the right direction, I do think it would be even more effective to have someone within each department whose responsibility it is as part of their job description to make sure that each agency and each department is focusing on this, because we all move in a million different directions and at a million miles an hour that I think it would be helpful to have this at the department level as well,” said Albornoz.
In closing, Ward announced that there will be another county-sponsored community conversation about race on June 26, this time held in Germantown.