By CLOEY CALLAHAN
Back in mid-August, lifelong resident Genesis Ramos was hired as the City of Newburgh’s new Equity and Diversity Consultant, with a long term plan of proposing a Chief Diversity Officer position in the 2021 budget. And while it did make the proposed budget, and was considered a highlight in City Manager Joseph Donat’s presentation, the outlook isn’t looking so positive for making it a full time position.
For the past few months, Ramos has been working to promote Justice, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) within the city. She has been paid a part-time salary of $6,250 and the consultant position comes to an end in December.
In August, Councilman Omari Shakur was the only member of the council who voted no. However, with the position in the proposed budget, other council members called for more details about the position to know what they’d be committing taxpayers to.
During the November 5 council meeting, Ramos presented her case as to why the position should be included in the budget.
She highlighted the importance of JEDI, especially in Newburgh that has a 80 percent minority constituency.
“There are systemic issues that prevail within our workforce,” said Ramos. “It’s important with JEDI work to increase cultural competence within our workforce.”
She reported that there is a 66 percent caucasion workforce, which is “not representative of our community.”
Councilmembers asked for a complete job description of the position to help them make their decision on if it should be included in the budget or not.
Ramos explained that her data and assessment collected as the Equity and Diversity Consultant needs to be completed before having a complete job description. She will be working with civil service, corporation counsel and the City Manager to make the job description between November 13 to December 11.
“It’s important that the integrity of this work remains intact because this needs to be intentional work,” said Ramos. “This position has to be created in a way that is conducive, feasible and meaningful for the community.”
While Ramos didn’t have a complete job description during the work session, she described what the difference between a Chief Diversity Officer and Human Resources Officer would be.
“JEDI work is a management strategy not a Human Resources function or program,” said Ramos. “They do two different things.”
Human Resources more commonly has a job description that includes job postings, marketing, interviews, mandated reporting, employee relations and employee performance management. A Chief Diversity Officer, on the other hand, would conduct training and development specific to JEDI, make data driven policy and procedure recommendations, work with stakeholders to build partnerships, be a member of the City Manager’s management leadership team and create a process to remove barriers within the City and its programs and operations.
There are intersections as well between the two positions including embedding JEDI strategies into hiring, interview and training practices.
She also suggested a proposed salary of $97,000 for the Chief Diversity Officer position. She put it in comparison to other cities like Rochester who has a Directory of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion who gets paid $102,903 to $130,023 and Manhattan who has a Director Diversity and Inclusion and Emerging Manager Strategy who gets paid $120,000 to $140,000 annually.
Shakur asked if she had any cities that were closer to the size of Newburgh to compare salaries, to which she said “I want to reiterate that I think the salary is fair given the size and overall budget of the city.”
She did say afterwards that she would be flexible with the salary if it meant the position was able to be put into the budget.
“I could see the salary being reworked,” said Ramos. “It was just a proposed salary. I could see other ways to make it more feasible so that the Council feels more comfortable voting in favor.”
Each council member expressed their concern with adding another position to the budget between the costs that come with it and the human resources position that is already made.
“When we’re talking about a city budget, there are lots of things that we all want, that at the end of the day sometimes they don’t get put in there,” said councilman Anthony Grice. “One of the criterias that I have for all positions is: is it going to save us any money, is it going to generate any money, and is it going to improve services to the community?”
He called for a complete job description and a clearer explanation of how it would connect with Human Resources.
Councilmember Karen Meija said she fully supports the position, but is unsure if it is fiscally possible right now.
“I am trying to figure out how we responsibly accept and make the commitment to this work in the City of Newburgh by moving forward with the JEDI work that was started, and how do we balance it on a budget that we are already dipping into our reserves,” said Meija.
Meija said she feels like she needs to pick between the two positions of Human Resources and a Chief Diversity Officer.
“How does one leverage the other?,” asked Meija.
She also suggested approving the position, but not allocating the funds to it at this time. The rest of the council members agreed that it might not be the right time to create another position.
“It wouldn’t be fiscally responsible for us to create another position when we already have positions that can deal with this and civil service law that can be enforced,” said Shakur. “Maybe next year we can bring it back up.
“No one minimizes the importance of what you’re presenting,” said councilwoman Patricia Sofokles.
Mayor Torrance Harvey was “surprised” at the council’s response, especially Shakur’s, who is always adamant about diversity in the city.
“When we talk about equity, justice, diversity and inclusion, and being a social studies teacher for 22 years, this is a priority,” said Harvey. “You’re talking 17 percent of our population are White Americans but we have 66 percent of our employees as white Americans.”
“It’s not just Human Resources, it’s how we’re looking at JEDI across the board in our city,” said Harvey. “I’m going to step out there and say I support this and I support the salary. This work is not Human Resources.”
If the position is approved for the budget, it will be open to anyone who wishes to apply. It would not be given to Ramos automatically. She will hold a final presentation about her work as the Equity and Diversity Consultant at the work session meeting on December 10.
Ramos said she hopes that if it isn’t put in the budget this year, that it is looked at again for the 2022 budget and that the JEDI work doesn’t go to the wayside.
“The work is very necessary to be continued,” said Ramos. “What I would not like to see happen is that there is no continuum to the work. There is no existing positions within the city structure that address or are specifically dealing with anything related to justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.”
The council needs to approve the budget by the second November meeting on the 23rd or the proposed budget is automatically adopted.