Courtesy Photo, City of Kent

Courtesy Photo, City of Kent

Kent City Council adopts Race and Equity Action Plan

Goal to ensure government policies and practices are equitable for all people

A Race and Equity Action Plan adopted by the City Council aims to make sure government policies and practices are equitable for all people who live, work and visit Kent.

Mayor Dana Ralph issued a mayoral directive in October 2020 to all department directors and city employees to take action on advancing race and equity initiatives. Ralph made the decision in response to protests locally and nationally against officer-involved killings of people of color.

The council unanimously adopted the resolution for the plan Feb. 21 at its Operations and Public Safety Committee meeting. It will cost the city an estimated $462,500 to implement the plan this year.

“As a minority majority community, the city of Kent has a unique responsibility to address racial inequities,” according to the plan. “The city is majority Black, Indigenous and people of color, and is the 10th most diverse community in the nation with more than 130 languages spoken in the Kent School District.

City staff worked with community partners and residents to design the plan.

“The Race and Equity Action Plan is the culmination of a multi-year process involving a broad range of community stakeholders, through a variety of different engagement strategies,” according to city documents. “The Race and Equity Plan will serve as a step to acknowledge and dismantle institutional and structural barriers, ensuring government policies and practices do not infringe upon the equal treatment and opportunities for all persons who live, work and visit Kent.

“The Race and Equity Plan shows the city’s commitment to improve outcomes for all racial groups and mirror the diversity of our community by focusing on five key areas that city residents identified as needing improvement.”

The five focus areas are:

• Communication

• In-language resources

• Equitable representation

• Training

• Community engagement

Uriel Varela, city race and equity manager, has led the formation of the plan and presented it to the council with a overview of the five focus areas.

Several of the highlights include:

• Kent becoming the first city in Washington state to be certified by Welcoming America, a national nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that leads a movement of inclusive communities becoming more prosperous by ensuring everyone belongs. The Decatur, Georgia-based group believes that all people, including immigrants, are valued contributors and vital to the success of our communities and shared future.

“We want to become the first Welcoming America city in the state,” said Varela, who added the city of Kirkland also is looking for certification.

Kent would have to meet the nonprofit’s criteria, such as create policies, reinforce welcoming principles, and communicate the socioeconomic benefits of inclusion. The nonprofit would help Kent reach its goals. In February, Philadelphia became the largest U.S. city to receive certification.

• The city plans to work with Kent-based, women-owned and minority-owned businesses to help make sure the city promotes such businesses and considers them for contracts to help reflect the diversity of the business community.

• Annual mandatory training of city employees to equip them with the tools to facilitate more complex conversations around race, equity, diversity and belonging. Employee training on Title VI, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects people from discrimination based on race, color or national origin in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.

• Create a Kent-based independent contractor list of certified interpreters and translators in an effort to inform more members of the community about the city where more than 136 languages are spoken.

• Welcoming signs in the top six languages spoke in Kent displayed at city-owned facilities to help the community feel welcome.

• Future relationship building with BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and people of color)-serving organizations at the leadership level, including quarterly consultation by the mayor in partnership with the BIPOC groups.

• City of Kent retains its diverse staff and all staff feel like they belong. Reach out to community partners to encourage a diverse candidate network for city job openings. All interview panel participants will take implicit bias training before in-person interviews.

“It’s not a quota system, but we want to improve the number of applicants,” Varela said. “We want to remove bias from the hiring process with implicit bias training and figure out ways to be more inclusive when hiring.”

• A progress report is planned for the fourth quarter of 2023 to see how well the city is reaching its various performance measures across numerous categories.

“In alignment with the city’s mission to build a an inclusive community that is safe, thriving and sustainable, the city desires to promote inclusiveness, celebrate diversity and support all fellow community members,” according to the resolution. “As a government agency, it is incumbent upon the city to not only proclaim a message of equity, but also to take steps to eliminate barriers to equity, and to ensure government policies and practices are equitable and do not infringe upon the equal treatment and opportunity of all persons.”

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