By CLOEY CALLAHAN
Genesis Ramos, the City of Newburgh’s Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) Consultant, presented her final report on her findings from over the last five months, and included recommendations for how the city can increase all four of these sectors.
“It has been a truly amazing opportunity for me to embark on this work – very necessary, and timely work in our community,” said Ramos.
Councilman Omari Shakur requested the city’s equal employment opportunity data back in March of this year, which showed “a lot of disproportionate data, specific to the City of Newburgh workforce.”
This data showed that Newburgh’s workforce is 66 percent white, 18 percent black and 15 percent Hispanic, despite Newburgh having a majority of its constituency being of color. The respective salaries are $66,000, $54,000 and $57,000. The data also revealed disproportionate numbers in terms of gender as well, with 23 percent of the workforce being female and 77 percent male. The average salary for women in Newburgh is $56,000 and $64,000 for men.
In the past five years, there have been 12 claims that specifically alleged some type of discrimination in employment based on a protected characteristic, like race or gender. Seven of the 12 allegations were for racial discrimination. Ramos’ findings showed that the cost of employment liability legal services has cost the city a yearly average of $60,000, which comes from the city’s taxpayers.
Ramos gave a brief overview of why JEDI work is necessary including not only due to the discovery of the aforementioned data, but also because it can help with employee morale and retention and improve services.
Her work included data collection, which included interviews, surveys and more, assessment and recommendations and the creation of the Chief Diversity Officer job description.
The survey, which had 62 participants from the city’s workforce, found that 57.14 percent of people disagreed that the City of Newburgh provides a safe environment for the free and open expression of ideas, beliefs and opinions. Similarly, 52 percent of people said they have personally experienced discrimination within the city of Newburgh and 60 percent said they think nepotism, favoritism and lack of transparency are issues within the city.
Ramos’s needs assessment included increased training, better policies, changing minimum qualifications on jobs, Spanish speaking, broadened capacity in outreach and mid-management, community engagement, budgets supporting professional development and nepotism elimination.
Through her interviews with city employees, she found that people were overlooked, unappreciated and that there was intimidation among other issues like there being no resolutions to grievances and that some departments get different benefits or resources than others.
“When I had this conversation with someone, they said they don’t know if they’d be able to survive working in another environment that was not the City of Newburgh because they have been so used to the dysfunction that they don’t know if they could thrive in a structure and “normal” work environment,” said Ramos about one interview she had where the person said, “Dysfunction is the norm.”
Through all of her research, Ramos offered a number of proposed recommendations including standardized hiring practices, like blind recruiting, expanded marketing of positions and more, a personnel handbook, staff wide professional development, training, policy revisions and creations, an interdepartmental mission statement, formalized communication methods, annual surveys, assessments and reports, community engagement and more.
Earlier in the fall, City Manager Joseph Donat proposed a 2021 budget, which included a full-time position for a Chief Diversity Officer, with the salary of $97,000. While the position was created, the funding was not allotted at this time.
“I put ‘proposed by the city manager’ there [on the slide] purposely,” said Ramos. “I, as a consultant, did not have the ability to propose or suggest a salary.”
If the position receives funding down the line, it would be posted for everyone to apply.
“This position is not being created for me,” said Ramos. “I know that is a big misconception that has been shared widely. I am a person of integrity and I find it necessary to say the position has not been offered to me by anyone in a position of leadership.”
The draft summary of the position includes that the Chief Diversity Officer would be a part of the administrative team, reporting to the City Manager. They would lead in “devising, implementing and managing policies, practices, programs and organizational behaviors that foster diversity, equity and authentic inclusions.”
The next steps at this time would be to allocate funding to the position and have the city council and city manager determine interim steps.
“I want to say thank you to Mrs. Ramos for her hard work and meticulous effort,” said Mayor Torrance Harvey during the work session. “I am really impressed with what you presented today and what you’ve shared with me over the months. JEDI is so important and high on my priority list.”
Mayor Harvey also thanked councilman Shakur for originally helping discover the equal employment opportunity data and the city manager for responding quickly and hiring Ramos as a consultant.
During the same work session, Mayor Harvey proclaimed Human Rights Day in the City of Newburgh as December 10, and Human Rights Week from December 10 to December 17.