Racial equity back on Oak Park trustees' radar

Village board considering other options in adopting racial equity training

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

It's been just over a year since the Oak Park Board of Trustees was presented with a recommendation by the Community Relations Commission (CRC) to adopt a new model for looking at all decisions by village government through the lens of racial equity.

With an election looming and with equity becoming a pervasive topic in not only local school districts but throughout the village, Oak Park trustees are planning to revisit the issue in the coming weeks.

The model presented by Terry Keleher and members of the CRC in January 2018 is more than what one might expect – the sessions and toolkits and various forums provided by the Government Alliance on Race & Equity (GARE) represent a philosophical shift in how the village approaches decision making.

Adopting the model could cost as little as $5,000 to train a handful of employees to implement the model, or it could run more than six figures. It all depends on how far the village aims to take it and how much effort it's willing to commit.

GARE's annual dues for a village the size of Oak Park, which has about 370 employees, would run $1,000.

"If they want to start small and go slowly, they could train a core team this year. If they want to move more quickly and want to train everyone in the next six months, that would involve a lot more training days and commitment," Keleher said.

Training a core team for a daylong training would run roughly $25,000, according to Keleher.

Following the presentation a year ago from the CRC and Terry Keleher, an Oak Parker and director of strategic development at Race Forward, an organization that partners with GARE, trustees voiced their support for implementing a racial equity model.

But there has been no progress on the proposal and no communication with CRC members on why a plan for implementation has not been presented.

Trustee Bob Tucker, a proponent of implanting the racial equity model, said he expects village staff to return soon with its evaluation of the GARE model and provide a recommendation. That could include "options" for other models, he said.

"I think we're all impressed with GARE," he said, adding that "they aren't the only game in town."

Tucker said the village board would be negligent in its duties "if we bought the car from the first car salesman."

Village Manager Cara Pavlicek could not be reached for comment about the village's review of other models.

About 100 other taxing bodies – municipalities, school districts, library boards and others – have adopted the GARE model nationwide.

Only two in Illinois have adopted the model – the city of Peoria and the Chicago Department of Public Health. Other major government entities outside of Illinois, such as the cities of Seattle and Portland, Oregon, have also adopted the GARE model.

It's difficult to say exactly how much adopting the model would cost Oak Parkers, because the sessions and various forums are in part dependent on whether other jurisdictions join the effort and help split the cost.

Taxing bodies also can adopt the GARE model at different levels, electing to participate in as few or as many sessions as it deems appropriate.

Of the four trustees interviewed about recent efforts to adopt the GARE model, none could say how much it would run taxpayers.

Trustee Deno Andrews said he and Trustee Simone Boutet were the first to ask that the issue be placed on the agenda in January 2018, but neither were certain what the program would run.

"If it is $100,000, that's a significant amount of money; we need to make sure we're not haphazardly spending money," Andrews said.

Boutet similarly said the board has not received enough information about cost to make a decision on the program but added that "racial equity is an important topic in our community and this training will help us make better decisions."

Trustee Dan Moroney said no one has directly contacted him on the issue since the board received the presentation on GARE last year.

"It's coming in front of the board, and I'm looking forward to hearing more about what staff recommends," he said.

Moroney said he doesn't fully understand what the program would entail or what it would cost to join. He said the issue needs to be revisited, adding, "People of color are not all the same."

Moroney noted that Oak Park village trustee candidate Cory Wesley, an African American, "grew up in Lawndale," referring to the neighborhood on Chicago's West Side.

"What is racial equity for Cory is different from Section 8 tenants," he said.

The conversation comes at a time when both school districts in Oak Park are working toward establishing their own racial equity model. School District 97 recently released a draft document outlining its approach toward racial equity decision making but has not yet adopted the language.

Community Relations Commissioner Kelly Benkert, and others on the commission, confirmed that there has been no communication from the village on where the topic stands and while the village has not taken action in over a year.

She said in a telephone interview that the commission has not been consulted on the village's efforts to look into other options.

Benkert said the commission did not consider other models for equity training in its deliberations.

"We're recommending GARE because they are the leading organization on this issue," she said.

tim@oakpark.com

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Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: February 6th, 2019 4:16 PM

Download the 28 page PDF describing the GARE program and read it. What you will see is this training being purchased in Portland, Seattle, Madison WI. So it is a program claiming to defeat racism, being used only in the already least racist places in the USA. Once Oak Park buys this program, any time any government leaders try to reduce or cut any spending, they will be branded as racist through the so called equity lens. So this is the end of thinking that property taxes will ever come under control if this gets in place. It is the end of rational debate in town, because who wants to be branded a racist - they will throw other people's money at it all day rather than have that happen. It is not racist to say that this is just a product, one we do not need and should not spend a dime on. It might be great in other places, but Oak Park? No way.

Jennifer Crook Gnolfo from Oak park  

Posted: February 6th, 2019 10:17 AM

I am fully in support of Oak Park adopting a racial equity lens for the many impactful spending and policy decisions the town makes everyday, and budgeting $ for the training it will require only makes sense. The impact of NOT adopting a racial equity lens is to perpetuate racial inequity and injustice in our community. How many would vote YES to that? I would like to point out that "buying" something that is badly needed is a good investment. Let's look at it as an opportunity to make Oak Park a greater community. If anyone is unsure that this is a good investment, or doesn't understand what the training involves, there are many resources out there. Start with a Google search of the specific program being suggested.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: February 5th, 2019 10:56 PM

So a salesman recommends a program he is selling and making a commission on. And all of a sudden the only question is how much of this training we have to buy? This is coming from Trustees who say they want to find ways to reduce the taxes in this town? Guys, it is ok to say NO to salespeople. Much better than sticking it to taxpayers.

Ray Traynor  

Posted: February 5th, 2019 1:55 PM

It's nice to see that some trustees are concerned as to how much a project will cost the tax payer.

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