ROCKVILLE – On Sept. 17, Montgomery County Council President Nancy Navarro introduced legislation that would establish positions in county government dedicated to racial equity and social justice.
The new bill will establish an Office of Racial Equity and Social Justice in the executive branch and create a program that focuses on issues of racial equity. It also requires each department in county government to develop a racial equity and social justice action plan.
The legislation will help the county address issues with racial equity in mind. It also mandates that the county executive submit a racial equity and social justice impact statement for each bill or program in the recommended budget. The legislation even requires that racial equity and social justice be taken into account when departments compile future master plans.
“This bill is the culmination of an exciting journey that started in April of last year when the former county council adopted resolution 18-1095 affirming the council’s commitment to creating a racial equity and social justice policy for Montgomery County,” Navarro said. “The buy-in from the council and our communities has been terrific; working as a team of leaders, we have inspired truly courageous conversations at an auspicious time in our nation and in our county.”
Since early last spring, the county sponsored public events called Community Conversations on Racial Equity and Social Justice.
The events were held all around the county and were organized in a group-dialogue format. Spaces in community and civic centers reserved for these community conversations were often filled nearly to capacity during the events.
Residents discussed the changes they would like to see in local government and expressed to councilmembers how they themselves had experienced racial inequity.
“Addressing issues of racial equity and social justice are a must if we seek to ensure the continued economic vitality of our county,” Navarro said last spring when she introduced the community conversations. “While the county is known for embracing its diversity, disparities in education, employment opportunities, health care and housing persist across races and ethnicities, income levels, genders and English-language proficiency.
“Meaningful involvement from all communities in the county is essential to tackle issues related to equity, particularly for those who are most directly affected by the inequities. Community engagement is the most-important factor to ultimately achieve the goals of the racial equity and social justice legislation that the council will introduce this fall.”
Navarro explained on Tuesday that this new bill will not act as a magic wand to correct all the inequities in the county but rather as a starting point to begin addressing racial equity and social justice in an organized and structured way.
Councilmember Will Jawando has worked extensively in his first term on the council on issues related to the police and racial justice.
In his comments on the new legislation, Jawando noted the coincidence of a bill geared toward promoting racial equity when just last week the council recognized the 400th anniversary of slavery in the United States.
“I think it’s very auspicious that here we are 400 years since the documented history of slaves coming to this country,” he said. “I know it wasn’t planned that way, but I think that is not an accident.”
Councilmember Craig Rice explained that legislation like Navarro’s is really about providing more space for access.
“Let me address those nay-sayers that will certainly start to come out of the woodwork, who think that somehow we are taking away something from someone to give to someone else,” he said. “They want to define equity as taking away from others to give to someone, but the reality is that equity is about opportunity and access, and the reality is that so many in our community have been denied (those opportunities).”
He noted that the county can demonstrate their commitment to being cognizant of racial equity through the policies they pass.
“This is making us a stronger and better Montgomery County. This is not taking anything away from anyone; it’s giving to all,” Rice said.
Councilmember Evan Glass noted in his comments just how gratifying it was to be able to participate in the county’s community conversations last spring and summer.
Glass also highlighted just how many people turned out to be a part of the events.
“The rooms were more filled than I had ever seen those venues before, and that is collaboration; that is true community input in knowing what we need to do,” Glass said. “So, for the long road that it has taken to get to this point but also for the length of the arc of the moral universe, both are long, and both bend toward justice.”
Seventy-nine-year-old Emily Wurtz, a Somerset resident, said she was pleased with the proposed bill.
“It’s a way to introduce systems of thought and governance that address a systemic problem,” Wurtz said of the bill. “I’m impressed. ”
A public hearing on the new legislation is scheduled for Oct. 29. Navarro explained that there will be one public hearing held during the council session and another held in the evening that day.
The bill is expected to be adopted in late November, according to Navarro.