Ferndale gives 1-year update on racial equity, anti-racism commitment

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published July 16, 2021


FERNDALE — In 2020, the Ferndale City Council approved a resolution that stated its commitment to anti-racism.

At its June 28 meeting, the council received a presentation from staff on the progress the city has made during the last year and their plans moving forward.

The action items the city listed from its commitment were for the Human Resources Department to review recruiting, hiring, retention and support policies; to study the Michigan Department of Civil Rights racial equity toolkit and develop a racial equity policy; and to develop a community advisory board for the Ferndale Police Department.

City Manager Joe Gacioch told the Woodward Talk that the past year has been one of research and learning. Through a partnership with Government Alliance on Race and Equity, the city has developed a three-pronged approach for its next moves.

“In the fall, we can expect the city’s internal team to begin to develop an internal equity team that will have discussions about equity perceptions, equity needs within the organization itself,” he said. “When I mean the organization, I mean every department within the city, including public safety and (the Department of Public Works).

“Concurrently, we’ll be looking for a facilitator to help conduct equity discussions within the community and, through the feedback we get from both of those efforts, we should roll into an equity plan that speaks to the experiences that are talked about during each of those internal and external meetings,” Gacioch continued. “The idea there is you have an organization — the government — that is serving the needs of the community and the needs of its workforce through the lens of equity.”

According to the presentation, a racial equity action team will be established in August with six to eight city employees who will commit at least two hours per month to the team. It will be followed by community meetings in September that will be professionally facilitated to gather the “lived experience” of residents. In October, the integration of equity and research into departments will begin.

Human Resources Director Dan Jacey said at the meeting that it’s important to recognize this is not a linear process and that they can only progress toward racial equity by involving multiple stakeholders at the same time.

“This group will bring together community input to create and adapt initiative components as they continue to grow and change,” he said. “An example of this would be the city’s racial equity mission statement, which is yet to be developed.”

Jacey said the community meetings will have a “strong focus” on attracting people of color to gather their input. He stated the city wants to learn about inequities that people face within the community and the larger metro Detroit area.

“We’ll utilize a professional facilitator to either further this conversation or to present data on how systematic racism has been infused into our social system over time,” Jacey said. “We’ll continue to have conversations within our community about racial equity as we go through this process. It is important to recognize that this is going to be ongoing. It’s not something that’s ever really going to be done, and I don’t like the word ‘initiative,’ but it’s the best word that I can come up with, because it’s more than an initiative and that seems a little bit trite. It’s about trying to make this who we are, not just be an initiative.”

At the same time, Jacey said, the city also will be working with every department to discuss racial equity within that department.

“We often focus on police when discussing racial equity, and while we continue to do that, it’s important to recognize that racial equity affects every department, and so we want to make sure that every department is included in the conversation,” he said. “We’re going to start with one department and discuss equity openly with those employees, and then we’ll have ongoing meetings to learn more about equity as we raise awareness and eliminate processes, policies and practices that are not equitable. … While we’re doing that, we’re going to document the findings and processes so that what we learn can be incorporated into other departments.”

During the citizens comment portion of the meeting, resident Kathleen LaTosch shared her thoughts on the presentation. While she appreciated the report, she was disappointed there weren’t any updates on the specific action items — recruitment hiring, community advisory board — the city listed in its commitment statement.

“I saw a lot of information about what you’re doing. I didn’t see a lot of information about progress on those particular items,” she said. “I think (what) might be helpful in your planning processes is if you were to create some kind of dashboard so you could say, ‘OK, this is how far along we are on this one, this is how far along we are on this one, this is what we’re hoping to accomplish with this one.’ So that when those reports come up, it might be a little bit easier for me as a community member to gauge.”