Summit County commissioners and community leaders brainstorm ways to promote equity

Alexandria Carns speaks at the diversity, equity and inclusion work session meeting held by the Summit Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday, Feb. 16. The commissioners used the meeting to gain input on what equity means to stakeholders in the community.
Screenshot from Summit Board of County Commissioners work session

Summit County’s new commissioners have made it clear that one of their goals is finding equitable solutions to community problems.

At a work session Tuesday, Feb. 16, the commissioners took a first step in doing just that. The meeting brought together local nonprofit leaders and social equality advocates to discuss ways the county could improve diversity, equity and inclusion in its services.

Commissioner Tamara Pogue said the meeting was the first step for the commissioners to understand the equity needs in the community. For Pogue, equity is about eliminating barriers for everyone in the community.

“Everyone, every person in Summit County who contributes to our community, has an opportunity to thrive,” she said about her definition of the term in an interview on Friday, Feb. 19.

While Pogue has her own definition in mind, she said one of the major purposes of the meeting was to discover what equity means for people living in Summit County.

Commissioner Josh Blanchard guided the conversation through two main topics:

  • The current perception of county government when it comes to equity
  • How the county can play a larger role in the community

Liz Tabraj, who works as a community health supervisor at the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, said one major thing the county can do to improve its perception is build trust within the immigrant community.

“There are wonderful benefits out there that people can apply for to thrive in the community, especially in these hard times,” she said. “However, they are not accessing those because there is that mistrust toward the government.”

Tabraj said the government should double down on messaging from the family resource center and other nonprofits to build more trust.

Claudine Norden, board president for Growing Together, a local nonprofit aimed at empowering immigrants and their families, said the county needs to go beyond just translating materials and offer fully Spanish meetings for the Spanish-speaking community.

“It helps our immigrant families that we’re talking about just feel safer and feel more invited to the table where voices are being heard and decisions are being made — instead of all of us sitting in a room making decisions for them,” she said.

In addition to bringing the Spanish-speaking community into conversations and decisions, meeting attendees said it would help to see the county work to provide more resources for living in Summit County.

One of the major issues highlighted by those at the meeting was affordable housing.

“Many Hispanics have more than two kids — many,” said Loli Respini, who works for the town of Frisco. “We need to start building more three-bedroom apartments. … There are no big enough apartments to rent, and not everybody can afford to be a homeowner.”

Respini said another major way for the county to help create a community that is more equitable would be to create “gear libraries.” The libraries would provide gear to check out for outdoor recreation, as many people can’t afford things like bikes, skis and snowboards.

Other suggestions made at the meeting included requiring town and county leaders to participate in professional development through the Family Leadership Training Initiative, which provides curriculum on how leaders can create healthier and more inclusive communities.

Those who attended the meeting also suggested that the county work to hold public meetings at times that work for people who have jobs and need day care. Currently, the Summit Board of County Commissioner work sessions and regular meetings are held at 9 a.m. Tuesdays, a time that doesn’t work for most people.

The commissioners plan to use the insight gained from the meeting to inform future decisions. The commissioners will be discussing how they want future conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion to be held at coming work sessions.

The county isn’t the only municipality having equity discussions. Frisco and Breckenridge have set up equity advisory committees with similar goals in mind.

“We really want to have a better understanding about how Summit County government is making space for this and prioritizing equity as a community value,” Blanchard said.

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