The McFarland Village Board is trying to flesh out the role of diversity, equity and inclusion in the village for the next year, following conflicts between village board members about DEI funding in late 2022 and early 2023.
Last week, trustees met with department heads from every corner of village government to discuss DEI efforts.
Chief staffers presented to board members their departments’ ongoing DEI work, ranging from reviews of recruitment and hiring procedure, and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance efforts to grant applications and hiring bilingual employees.
Early discussions of the role of DEI in the village have yielded suggestions like revamping senior-accessible transit options in the village, increasing a commitment to grant-writing, subsidizing more public infrastructure services.
The wide-ranging Jan. 24 meeting was part of a series of conversations planned by board members, as they kicked off 2023 with a spotlight on DEI.
The board’s discussions about DEI efforts in the village will go on until the village board finalizes a job description for the new employee it has committed to funding. Conversations are scheduled to continue during a Committee of the Whole meeting on Feb. 14 at 5:30 p.m. at village hall.
Stephanie Brassington, the chair of the village’s DEI committee, said she looks forward to those discussions.
“We put the money in the budget to add a position. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to carelessly add a position,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do to do that. If at the end of the work we say we’re not ready for it, we can make changes.”
Carolyn Clow, the village president, has intentionally begun those conversations from a birds-eye-view, she said. The board’s first meeting on the topic was for trustees to brainstorm what roles the village can and should play in equity issues within McFarland.
A contentious budget process in November gave rise to infighting among trustees about the village’s values and procedures, leaving the board with big questions about the work to be done and its own role in making McFarland an inclusive and equitable community.
The renewed focus on DEI stems primarily from the board’s commitment to fund a new DEI position within the village. The specific role of that position is yet to be determined, and will be guided by local needs identified in these ongoing conversations.
In July 2021, McFarland hired Meraki Consulting to deliver a DEI report on the village government. Over the next ten months, Meraki collected demographic data, met with village committees to perform analyses and ended with a three-day equity workshop in May of 2022.
The results of that research and workshop were accepted by the board one month later. They included goals ranging from ongoing review of demographic data, revision of employment policies, completion of a land acknowledgement and collaborating with the school district and other community partners to host community roundtables.
Weaknesses identified in the committee-specific analyses included a lack of diversity within the police department, a lack of regular DEI training for staff, shortages of staffing and space for senior services, inaccessibility in village park, a lack of bilingual books and support in the library, housing affordability and access to transportation services.
The report presented demographic data for McFarland’s population as well as for police citations and arrests, homeownership and instances of office discipline within the school district.