New Milwaukee County Board committee to focus on racial equity

Milwaukee County Board chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson
Milwaukee County Board chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson

Last updated on June 4th, 2020 at 01:23 pm

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors has established a new committee to pursue racial equity in county government policies, six days after protests erupted nationwide over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis during a confrontation with police.

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors created the Audit Committee, which will focus on improved efficiency, cost savings and racial equity, the County Board announced today.

“The Audit Committee is a concrete step towards achieving racial equity and improving the health of black and brown communities in Milwaukee County,” Milwaukee County Board chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson said in a statement. “All county policies, procedures and programming should align with our recently adopted racial equity ordinance, and the Audit Committee will help us do that.”

Prior to the creation of the Audit Committee, a Finance and Audit Committee reviewed reports produced by the Audit Division, located within the county’s Office of the Comptroller.

Nicholson proposed creating a freestanding committee so the County Board could dedicate more time and focus reviewing audit reports, specifically as they relate to the county’s vision of improving health outcomes by achieving racial equity.

Nicholson has appointed Supervisor Sequanna Taylor to serve as chair of the new committee. Supervisors John Weishan, Jr., Jason Haas, Supreme Moore-Omokunde, Felesia Martin, and Liz Sumner will also serve on the committee. The first meeting of the committee will be held on June 16.

The Audit Committee’s first move will be to consider a requested informational report on Milwaukee County’s progress towards achieving racial equity and the recommendations contained in the audit report, “Pulling Back the Curtain: A Look at Milwaukee County’s Workforce through Racial and Gender Equity Lenses from 2009 to 2019,” which was completed in February 2020.

The objective of the audit was to provide historical data of what the county workforce has looked like for the past ten years and then provide key findings to policymakers and hiring managers as they pursue the county’s new strategic goals, which include workforce diversity.

The audit concluded that while the overall county workforce has some variances to the 2018 Census Bureau population estimates, there is a wide disparity in staffing by race and gender within functional areas and agencies at the county. It also found disparity when comparing the average salary of racial groups to that of the county overall, according to the audit.

Among other policies, the audit recommended setting up a system to regularly monitor the variance in salaries by race and analyze the data to determine the cause. Another recommendation is to conduct a review of all involuntary separations to determine if there is a reason for the disproportionate number of black or African American employees or other racial groups.

This audit resulted in the development of three-year objectives for Milwaukee County and stems from a previous audit from 2014, the findings of which revealed the County lacked in a clear diversity policy and had wide variations in workforce diversity at the department level.

In April, Milwaukee County adopted a racial equity ordinance with the stated goal of “advancing the strategic priority of achieving racial equity to improve the health of the entire community by eliminating any racism in the County’s policies, procedures, practices, and power structures.”

“Milwaukee County is committed to achieving racial equity, but to do that we have to rework many of our policies and practices,” Taylor said in a statement. “By working closely with the Audit Division, we will identify opportunities to revise our policies and begin to dismantle the structural racism that contributes to worse health outcomes for people of color.”

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