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Wednesday 28 October 2020
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Bello’s Transition Team Recommends Adding a Chief Diversity Officer

Patti Singer
pattisinger@minorityreporter.net

The county needs a chief diversity officer to make sure its workforce looks like the community it represents, according to a list of priorities developed by a transition team assembled by County Executive Adam Bello.

The team handed Bello an 80-page report full of suggestions for how county government should be organized, guidelines for economic and community development, changes to human services, what to do about sustainability, thinking about transportation and parks, and enhancing public safety and justice.

The document wasn’t written to be a playbook but to be a compass – a way for Bello and the community to stay on track with his campaign pledge of inclusion – what he called lifting people up instead of keeping people out.

“It’s really making sure (government) works so everyone in this community has an equal opportunity to succeed,” he said Feb. 11 after receiving the report.

More than 100 residents – from elected officials, business leaders, non-profit agencies, educational institutions and community activists – spent about three months on the project. They came up with 235 recommendations, which were whittled into 29 priorities.

Jerome Underwood, left, was one of three chairpersons of County Executive Adam Bello’s (middle) transition team. Bob Duffy (right) of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce and Fran Weisberg (not pictured) was the third. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

“You can’t have 200 priorities,” said Jerome Underwood, chief executive officer of Action for a Better Community and one of three chairpersons of the transition team. “We got them down to primary objectives to give to the county executive … things that we can move forward. That’s what I’m looking for. How close can we stick to the script, knowing that things will change. But there are some fundamental issues of equity, diversity and inclusion that I think are not negotiable.”

The call for a chief diversity officer was listed second, but Underwood said that didn’t necessarily mean it’s No. 2 on Bello’s to-do list. The priorities were grouped by topic, and it so happened that diversity fell under organizational priorities, which was the first section.

“Diversity and inclusion touches something this community has been having a lot of conversation on over the last four or five years,” Underwood said after the presentation.

He said data on education, housing, employment, criminal justice and health care are skewed along racial lines. “There’s an issue that we as a community need to address. In order to do it, you have to invest in it. Not window dressing, but you have to put people in place and provide the resources for people to do what is very difficult work. Hopefully what it ends up resulting in is some transformational change, … It’s a movement that needs to happen not just with that person but with institutions and across communities.”

Underwood said the recommendations also call for a racial equity assessment of county government. He said it’s not a matter of counting heads but looking at how the county hires people, what it does to keep them and whether it is seeking diverse vendors.

“We lifted that up to make sure the county executive will place a very high premium on being inclusive, being fair, being diverse and making systemic change,” Underwood said. “It has be a main vein to everything the county does.”

Among other priority recommendations:

  • use social media and town hall meetings to get regular feedback from residents;
  • revive the Council of Governments of municipalities in the county to look at shared services;
  • create a land bank to deal with zombie homes;
  • bolster the arts community;
  • designate a point person to provide proactive, coordinated leadership on the opioid crisis;
  • provide more support to children with special needs;
  • establish a climate board;
  • make county transportation projects pedestrian-friendly;
  • develop a long-range plan for the parks; and
  • create a task force to develop a plan to address issues created by criminal justice reforms.

The full report is at www2.monroecounty.gov/files/executive/bello-transition-report.pdf

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