Just days after County Councilman Kai Hagen (D) released a draft of a bill he hopes to introduce aiming to address racial equity and social justice issues countywide, County Executive Jan Gardner (D) checked off one of the bill's goals.
Gardner announced Thursday her office would add a Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer, which would assist her and other senior county officials in ensuring racial equity and social justice countywide.
Vivian Laxton, the county's communications director, said the officer would make between $77,008 and $123,213 annually. Gardner said she hopes to have the position filled within the next three to four months, and that the money would come of the contingency fund in the county budget.
"It's very clear that we need a person to lead this effort, and to really help deliver this," Gardner said of the officer's role in improving racial equity and social justice issues. "To do any kind of work, you need to have somebody do it, and so I think we have a number of key areas [to work on]."
Racial equity and implicit bias training, internal policy, legislation drafting, supporting minority businesses and other issues will fall under the officer's responsibilities, Gardner added.
According to the job description, the officer is "responsible for developing and providing overall management of a strategic framework, shaping, directing and advancing racial, gender, ethnic and social equity priorities, and achieving equitable opportunities for all residents in Frederick County," and reports to the County Executive.
Gardner's announcement comes after Hagen posted a draft of a bill on his Facebook page, aiming to ensure racial equity and social justice countywide, modeled off legislation passed by the Montgomery County Council late last year. While the bill hasn't come before the council yet, he hopes to have it officially introduced in the coming months.
The draft calls for a chief equity officer position, and for the County Executive to create and submit a Racial Equity and Social Justice Master Action Plan for the county, subject to County Council approval. It also would require the county executive to submit a report annually of steps county officials are taking to fulfill the plan, and create a Racial Equity and Social Justice Advisory Commission, consisting of 12-15 members, among other initiatives.
Gardner said the creation of a chief equity officer had been in the works for months.
Hagen said in an interview earlier this month he's been pleased at the amount of public feedback on the draft, and added he modeled it off of what Montgomery County passed because it was a "good foundation" for combatting racial equity and social justice issues.
"The feedback in last two days has been stunning," Hagen said shortly after he posted the draft bill on his Facebook page. "Already, a good number of people have taken the time and the effort to go through it thoroughly, and make notes and suggestions."
Gardner said the new Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer will be important to offer perspective on how the Racial Equity and Social Justice Advisory Commission should operate, along with making sure their work doesn't conflict with the Human Relations division and Human Relations Commission.
She supports having legislation of some sort, but there's a lot of "prescriptive stuff" in Hagen's proposal that isn't flexible. There also are differences between Frederick and Montgomery counties, Gardner said.
"They're going to hire five people [as part of the legislation] and they moved people around and they just have a bigger structure of government, period," Gardner said about Montgomery County's bill. "And our community is different, so we want to do something that is customized to Frederick County."
"It's really important that the right people have a seat at the table," Gardner added.
Gardner said she's heard in several meetings with small groups that people are interested in seeing a more diverse workforce and more assistance for minority businesses, along with a good workplace culture in county government.
Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) said she saw Hagen's draft bill, and agreed with Gardner that much of the language could be overly prescriptive.
She added, however, that she also has been meeting with small community groups in recent months, discussing diversity in job hiring and racial equity training among other topics.
"We have to sit down and figure out how we can implement some of these suggestions," Keegan-Ayer said. "Are these suggestions going to give us the results we want to see, and how do we measure these results? … How do we make sure our hiring practices get us people of color, and them into positions of authority?"
Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater (D) supports Hagen's proposal and its overall intent of ensuring racial equity.
"I absolutely think we need to be doing work on the racial equity front and review internal policies and procedures," Fitzwater said, adding the draft is so comprehensive, it may need to become several bills when it comes before the council.
Hagen said he's pleased at the level of interest, and prepared for challenging conversations about the subject. He added the changing demographics of Frederick County during the past several years contribute to that.
"When a community is going through a lot of changes, there’s always going to be a lot of tensions," he said. "But we are going through these changes when the whole country is going through these changes, right now."
Hagen hopes to formally introduce some form of racial equity and social justice bill to the County Council before the end of the year.
This story has been updated to clarify that Hagen's draft has not been brought before the county council or officially introduced yet.