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Monroe County Legislature President Deems Proposal to Address Racial Inequities as Matter of Importance

Patti Singer

Members of the Monroe County Legislature Public Safety committee discuss a proposed resolution to address racial inequities. Image from Monroe County YouTube channel.

Five Democratic legislators are asking their colleagues to pass a bill that would address racial inequities in Monroe County.

The proposed resolution builds off recommendations made in March by the Commission on Racial and Structural Equity, which found that people of color are “excluded from opportunities that could enhance their economic, social and mental health.”

Legislators Calvin Lee Jr., Sabrina LaMar, Frank Keophetlasy, Ernest Flagler-Mitchell and Vincent Felder introduced a measure to correct the imbalance.

Building off recommendations from the RASE commission, the four members of the Black and Asian Caucus and Felder are asking for seven legislative actions.

The resolution, deemed a matter of importance on Nov. 22 by Legislature President Dr. Joe Carbone, was passed unanimously by the Public Safety committee on Nov. 22 and the Human Services committee on Nov. 23. It is scheduled to be taken up by the full legislature on Dec. 14.

That meeting is one day before the Dec. 15 deadline stipulated by the resolution for County Executive Adam Bello to provide a plan, process and implementation timeline to the legislature regarding the proposed directives and other recommendations from the RASE Commission.

An attempt to reach Lee, acting chair of the Black and Asian Democratic Caucus, was not successful, and call to the Caucus was returned by Felder. Additional attempts to contact Felder were not successful.

Deputy County Executive Jeff McCann said on Nov. 22 that the administration had seen the proposal on the day it was introduced and was not prepared to comment.

In addition to the reporting deadline of Dec. 15, the resolution directs the county executive or designee to:

  • create a local process allowing businesses to become MWBE certified in lieu of the process laid out by the state;
  • redesign civil service functions to ensure equitable and unobstructed access to qualified applicants;
  • create a process to ensure all potential contractors have diversity, equity and inclusion policies in place;
  • create a community-based program for youth facing criminal charges that includes counseling and mentorship, restorative justice circles, case managers who create a comprehensive plan with parents and youth; respite services, and a forensic youth psychiatric specialist;
  • make a good-faith effort to decentralized county health services into high-BIPOC neighborhoods;
  • create a racial justice task force made up of the major players in the criminal justice system and community members to meet quarterly to review local data and identify additional strategies to eliminate racial disparities.

The referral passed both committees, but legislators did have questions.

During the Public Safety committee meeting, Democratic legislator Yversha Roman and Republican chairwoman Karla Boyce asked several questions about the proposal.

Roman asked for the rationale of the Dec. 15 date, and Keophetlasy replied that he was not sure of the basis for the timeline. Roman also asked whether the directive to create a process to certify MWBE duplicated Gantt’s Law.

Boyce questioned the assertion in the proposal that it would not affect the budget when the sponsors were asking for the county to create a task force. Keophetlasy replied he did not know whether there would be any cost and mentioned the possibility of volunteers.

During the Human Services committee meeting, Republican Robert Colby asked whether the county had the authority to change anything having to do with civil service. LaMar answered that there was concern that questions on tests could reflect bias and marginalize certain applicants. Colby pressed for the county law department to see whether changes could be made at the local level.

The items in the proposed resolution came from five systemic solutions offered by the RASE commission:

  • create and invest in sustainable economic opportunities in Black and Latinx communities to promote and maintain self-sufficiency, entrepreneurship and career advancement;
  • implement and incentivize practices and programs that increase the racial/ethnic diversity and cultural competence of employees, vendors and contractors;
  • end practices that disproportionately drain resources from Black and Latinx communities;
  • decentralize services and embed them in trusted agencies throughout the community;
  • embed accountability measures in all policies to ensure equity and fairness across all services, programs and delivery models.

While the RASE commission focused on the Rochester and Monroe County, some of the recommendations have traveled farther afield.

The five authors of the resolution said it has met with Erie County Office of Equal Employment Opportunity, which the authors said have implemented many suggestions of the RASE commission. The authors said that because Monroe County is similar in size to Erie, it can use that county as a blueprint for the recommendations in the resolution.