Audit: West Linn must be 'proactive' on equity, diversity
The city of West Linn has considerable work to do to live up to its goal of fostering greater equity in town, a recent audit revealed.
In assessing the local government's performance in a report paid for by the city, Kenley Group gave West Linn a two on a four-point scale when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion. The report states that while the city has acknowledged the need for DEI and devoted some resources to the cause, it has not taken the steps necessary to spark organizational change.
"The City will begin to achieve citywide DEI when it moves beyond being reactive in responding to DEI issues when someone musters the courage to speak up and becomes proactive," auditors wrote in their report.
Fallout from last year's Michael Fesser settlement prompted a renewed interest in improving equity and inclusivity at the city. One result of this new commitment was the city hiring a managerial consulting firm to gauge DEI at the city.
The Kenley Group, the chosen firm to which the city paid $40,000 for the audit, completed its review earlier this year detailing various aspects of DEI.
The auditors surveyed city staff, elected officials and members of citizen advisory groups and neighborhood associations, while also reviewing U.S. Census data along with the city's policies, websites and meeting minutes.
Mayor Jules Walters said the Kenley Group's report contained no real surprises.
"The most important part of the audit was to have an honest lens of how we're doing as a city, in our policies and procedures, and I was not surprised that overall we were at level two (on the Kenley Group's scale of one through four)," Walters said.
What did the audit find?
Using its own metric to analyze the city's strengths and weaknesses, as well as "opportunities and threats," when it comes to DEI, the Kenley Group scored West Linn a two out of four.
"At Level 2, the value of diversity is beginning to be acknowledged, some demographics numbers and targets are in place, ad hoc and/or stand-alone grass root initiatives and bias training as well as some resource events take place. However, true change in organizational culture takes place at Level 3 as this is when senior leaders level the playing field," the auditors noted in the final report. "The City will begin to achieve citywide DEI when it moves beyond being reactive in responding to DEI issues when someone musters the courage to speak up and becomes proactive."
This score was based in part on the Kenley Group's analysis of city staff diversity as well as staff's thoughts on diversity at City Hall and their personal opinions on the topic.
According to a survey taken by 89 city employees, 45 employees identify as women, 39 identify as men, two identify as genderqueer or nonbinary, while one employee responded that their gender was not listed on the survey and two employees skipped the question. The survey noted that 85% of West Linn employees are straight while the rest are gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, asexual or other.
Auditors also asked employees about their ethnicity, revealing that nearly 92% of staff are white, while only one employee is Black, three are East Asian, two are Hispanic or Latinx, one is American Indian or Alaskan Native and two are Pacific Islanders.
The survey also asked employees which religion, if any, they identified with, whether they were the first in their family to graduate college, whether English was their first language, and whether they cared for a child, adult or someone with disabilities.
In the report, the auditors noted that city staff frequently responded "neither agree nor disagree" to survey questions about DEI at City Hall.
For example, 44% of staff said they neither agree nor disagree that "(West Linn) has a clear understanding of the definition of inclusion."
The Kenley Group's definition of inclusion was "authentically bringing traditional excluded individuals and/or groups into the processes, activities, and decision-making." Forty-one percent of staff agreed with that statement and 15% disagreed.
Fewer than 23% of employees agreed that the city had a "high-level commitment to DEI," while 8% disagreed with the statement and 67% said they neither agree nor disagree.
The survey asked staff not just what they thought about the city's stance and implementation of DEI, but their personal opinions on that matter. Six city employees of 89 who responded wrote that DEI was not one of their personal top priorities. Fifty-two said it was a top priority and 31 were neutral.
The Kenley Group looked beyond staff as well, to citizen groups like neighborhood associations and advisory groups.
According to the report, there is a troubling lack of diversity among the citizens the city frequently engages with.
The report noted that the auditors held one-on-one meetings with 15 members of city boards and committees and learned that the committees "are not diverse, composed of the same people, and lack annual goals and objectives." The report said these groups are made up of mostly white, affluent members who are 65 and older.
"Many feel their voices are overlooked and they are not working to their full potential due to the lack of goals and diverse composition," the report stated.
Seventy-one people from the city's neighborhood associations responded to a Kenley Group survey for the audit. Of those 71 respondents, "46% agree the City consults with the same group of people (primarily wealthy, white and/or male groups) compared to 4% who agree the City consults with diverse community groups."
The report also noted that the majority of respondents from the neighborhood associations (58%) felt decision-makers within the city don't take action when residents bring forward issues of discrimination and exclusion.
The survey explored possible reasons for this poor engagement of diverse groups: 39% of neighborhood association respondents said city services like the library and recreation services catered to diverse cultures, while 26% said city communications were accessible to all residents and only 18% felt the city used different methods of communication to ensure diverse voices were heard.
Survey respondents offered a few solutions: Use more inclusive language, revamp the website, create opportunities to come together, respond to emails and voicemails, communicate even when there is not an issue, conduct frequent outreach and be more responsive.
Auditors also looked over 400 city documents including policies, reports, marketing material, website pages and meeting minutes, finding that none of these documents merited a five (based on the group's 1-5 grading scale for documents, with five as the best and one the worst) and only one document, the city's gender-pronoun policy, merited a four.
Most of the city's documents were graded a two or a one, except for the 117 community communications, which each received a three.
What will West Linn do next?
Though the Kenley Group's report offered little the city didn't already know about its diversity, it provided an honest look at the city's current state regarding diversity and how it can improve, according to Walters.
One of Walters' takeaways from the report was that West Linn is more diverse than many people believe. According to U.S. Census numbers in the report, 13% of West Linn residents speak a language other than English at home.
"We need to stop thinking that we're not diverse, and we need to start doing the work of being more inclusive and equitable and embracing that we are diverse and celebrating it," Walters said.
Armed with data from the audit, city officials are now looking at how to make West Linn more diverse, inclusive and equitable.
One of the first things Walters mentioned on the path to doing that was creating a DEI committee composed of diverse citizens who can advise the City Council on various DEI-related issues.
"I'm hopeful that by the end of the year we will have in place a very diverse group of people that can help us with this work and give us advice and be willing to say, 'Hey, make sure you're looking through the equity lens when you're making these decisions,'" Walters said.
Walters also mentioned a desire for more celebrations of cultural diversity. She said next year she'd like to have a Pride Parade and an event to celebrate Juneteenth.
Walters also mentioned that West Linn needs an "equity plan."
Walters, Library Director Doug Erickson and other city officials have started brainstorming ideas to move this DEI work forward. One of their ideas is creating another community survey based on the Kenley Group findings and asking community groups like faith-based organizations, civic groups, youth sports organizations, diverse groups at West Linn High School like the Gay-Straight Alliance and culturally and socially conscious groups in the community to respond.
From this survey, the city potentially could find partners for its next steps and members of the DEI advisory group.
Erickson and Walters also have considered ways to promote diversity and inclusion among staff, like sending employees to DEI professional training and asking staff what they believe the city's DEI goals should be.
Gabrielatos said he recently met with department heads at city hall and discussed creating a staff team to examine long-term DEI issues at city hall.
He also noted that as the city dealt with various natural disasters over the past year, it hasn't progressed as far with the DEI work as he'd have liked.
"I don't want this work to get lost and I've asked the team to set aside time in their schedules to do the deep dive that this work requires," he said.
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