Besides residency, educational background and professional expertise, demographic factors such as race soon may be considered when Fairfax County officials vet board and commission appointees.
The Chairman’s Task Force on Equity and Opportunity recommends the county intentionally ensure diverse representation in its power and decision making, Chief Equity Officer Karla Bruce told the Board of Supervisors Oct. 11 during an annual progress report the group’s efforts.
The task force hopes to expand on work by the county’s Neighborhood and Community Services division to create a pool of people who could serve on county advisory bodies and work with Leadership Fairfax to develop community leadership capacity.
“We’re really aiming to broaden and deepen the pool of people who would be eligible and really willing to participate in leadership positions,” Bruce said.
The task force will conduct a “demographic analysis” of membership on existing county boards, authorities and commissions, which will be completed in spring 2023, Bruce said. Such demographic information then would be collected automatically with future appointees.
Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) said he and fellow supervisors routinely struggle to fill appointments on boards and commissions. He praised the task force’s demographic focus on those entities and supported Leadership Fairfax’s efforts to seek a more diverse range of potential appointees.
Such efforts “really are an opportunity waiting to happen in Fairfax County, in terms of accomplishing our goals with One Fairfax,” Foust said of the county’s overall equity policy. Term limits for boards and commissions also could help achieve greater diversification, he said.
“There’s so many places in our county government where we have vacancies and it would be awesome if we could get people who are in some of our under-represented areas to be able to work in those positions,” agreed Supervisor Rodney Lusk (D-Lee).
The county formed the task force in September 2020 while experiencing COVID-related disparities. There was a “recognition of the deep, structural nature of inequity in government and community,” Bruce said.
The group made 20 recommendations and there has been progress on each, Bruce said. Training at public-safety agencies, including efforts to root out “implicit bias,” has been successful and the task force supports affordable-housing efforts so those employees can live in the county, she said.
The task force prioritized four recommendations: cradle-to-career success, community health and well-being, community safety and justice, and equitable communities, Bruce said.
The task force also is pressing the county to develop and implement “equity-based decision-making tools to inform our planning, projects, decision making and resource allocations,” Bruce said. Each county department has crafted equity-impact plans, which are posted on the county’s Website.
County officials also have instituted equity-impact statements, which are integrated into items coming before the Board of Supervisors, she said.
The task force favors establishment of a Community Advisory Board, to be made up of black and indigenous residents, as well as people of color and low-income residents. The group would monitor the extent to which each county agency is prioritizing the needs of those communities, Bruce said.
Task force members are reconstituting the One Fairfax Community Roundtable, which will begin accepting appointments in October, she said. Bruce will ask district supervisors to appoint a person to the organization and have the chairman appoint other representatives from key community institutions serve with the approximately 20-member group.
The task force looks forward to creating “Equity Action Teams,” on which residents may serve for short-term projects pertaining to certain issues.
The task force has been providing, and expanding, equity training for county staff. Core training includes a program titled “Advancing Racial Equity: The Role of Government” and a discussion of California Newsreel’s three-part documentary series, “Race: The Power of an Illusion.”
“It’s the recommendation of the task force that all people in leadership roles in our organization take advantage of these opportunities,” Bruce said.
The task force is working with Leadership Fairfax to make such training available to county leadership and staff, as well as the community, she said.
The Department of Procurement and Materials Management also is endeavoring to “more broadly share” the county’s resources with small, women- and minority-owned businesses in the community. A technical bulletin from the department requires the participation of such companies in all applicable solicitations, Bruce said.
Another top priority of the task force is to close the racial wealth gap, including an economic-mobility program that would provide guaranteed income, she said.
Lusk also approved of efforts to reduce the wealth disparity, calling it “one of the most important, one of the most crucial and one of the best ways that we can help address the issue of poverty and disparity in our community.”
“This is not rocket science,” Lusk said. “The reason that so many people are struggling in Fairfax County is because they don’t make enough money to survive and live and support their families. We have to do better.”
The group’s efforts are intended to lift up all people in the county, said Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay (D).
“What we do have is reams and reams and reams of metrics that show there are inequities that exist in Fairfax County,” he said. “And almost every measurement – based on income, based on ZIP code, based on race, based on gender, based on ability – we see it every time we do an analysis. It is crystal-clear.”