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Frisco council discusses overcoming bias, creating equitable policies

Town Council completes second leg of social equity training

The Frisco Town Council took part in the second of two racial equity training sessions last week, continuing to build on topics like normalizing discussions about race and creating a more inclusive community.

Town Council members joined representatives of the National League of Cities’ Race, Equity and Leadership team for the second session Tuesday, May 25, the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd that triggered local and national protests and spurred deeper talks about racial equity in Summit County. During the meeting, presenters worked with the council on how to identify implicit biases and provided guidance on how best to ensure town policies and practices are equitable for all people.

The presenters went through their definitions of equality and equity, saying that equality presents all individuals with a level playing field while equity addresses historical barriers and different experiences to provide everyone with the same opportunities. They then dove into a conversation about how biases are a natural result of subconscious efforts to categorize and create associations, and how acknowledging them can lead to positive changes.



Rita Soler Ossolinski, program director at the National League of Cities, shared her experience confronting bias. She told a story about a time she was trying to register voters and was approached by someone who told her she hadn’t asked any Black people to register. She noted that by being informed of her bias, she was able to take agency over her actions and work to improve.

“I was so appreciative that someone held up a mirror,” Soler Ossolinski said. “… Implicit bias doesn’t necessarily reflect reality because your brain is seeing one thing and your mouth might be saying something else. But what happens is it forces us to make judgments, just like I was not stopping everyone and asking them to register to vote. Our implicit biases get expressed in ways that are influenced by society, and it leads us to identify certain groups with certain characteristics not necessarily based on fact.”



Officials voiced some of the biases they’ve observed in Summit County. Council member Melissa Sherburne pointed to the town’s marketing materials, saying they didn’t show the diversity of people in the town and fail to target individuals from different backgrounds. She also spoke about some deed-restricted housing in the county that requires U.S. citizenship for eligibility, a requisite she called a major hurdle for important members of the workforce.

Council member Jessie Burley said she’s noticed bias in the way some locals treat visitors.

“I live right near a trailhead, and a lot of times I hear just the explicit, ‘Go back to Denver. Go back to where you came from!’” Burley said. “That’s not even a racial thing; that’s just us versus them.”

The group talked about how explicit biases in government policies should be eliminated but that the impacts of those policies will often linger. Council member Andy Held gave an example from his upbringing, when students at his high school continued to segregate themselves after it was no longer school policy.

“When I was in high school, we had two lunchrooms,” Held said. “There was a white and a Black lunchroom. It was explicit in the ’60s. The signs came down, but it stayed that way to the ’80s.”

Soler Ossolinski said in order to change long-standing systems, those in power have to not only change policies but dedicate themselves to addressing the root problems that created the inequitable system.

Seantae Byers, senior executive and director with the National League of Cities, said biased systems are easily recognizable through data analysis. She presented figures on how race serves as a predictor of success in the United States with regard to maternal mortality rate, incarceration, unemployment, education, housing and income. She continued to say that Frisco officials should rely on data to see how race serves as an indicator locally.

Byers said data analysis would lead the town to strategies for racial equity improvements, the eventual implementation of a plan and the development of accountability measures for community leaders. She also spoke to the importance of including the public throughout the process, and she said it was vital the town make policy decisions based on the real impacts to the community instead of just intent.

“You can have the greatest intentions … but that doesn’t mean that your actions have the impact of your intent,” Byers said. “When you’re thinking about this from a standpoint of, ‘What is the overall impact on communities and people and residents?’ you’re coming from a place where you’re centered in fairness and justice.”

Byers also recommended the creation of a racial equity leadership team composed of representatives from different departments in town, a move interim Town Manager Jeff Durbin said was already in the works.

With the training completed, the Town Council will move forward on its own to continue assessing equity in the town and where improvements need to be made.

Council member Dan Fallon suggested the town begin by reaching out to communities on the Front Range to attract a diverse workforce.

“It’s such a deeply important conversation and challenging on so many levels,” Fallon said. “To kind of bring that to bear on policymaking, going back to the equity-equality piece and really trying to understand the difference between trying to provide equality and going the extra distance to create equitable policies that create that unlevel playing field that is justifiable because your desired outcome is such that it requires it. …

“If we’re not willing to create … intersecting strategies to get to that desired outcome, this has been a fascinating conversation … but ultimately won’t deliver the strength of diversified community that we all desire.”

Overall, the council expressed that the training was worthwhile and would help to facilitate changes for the better.

“This is really, hopefully, the start of a conversation, an ongoing discussion and review of policies,” Sherburne said. “And really just looking in the mirror at how we can break down the barriers that exist unintentionally within our community.”

 


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