To serve community, county needs an inclusion manager

  • By Kinuko Noborikawa, Bo Tunestam, and Therese Quinn
  • Friday, October 18, 2013 2:32pm
  • OpinionCommentary

Snohomish County government has discharged its inclusion manager. The position has roots that date back to the spring of 2006, when discussions began in the County’s Diversity Council exploring the creation and funding of an initiative to promote inclusion in Snohomish County government. After several years of false starts, the inclusion manager position was eventually funded and real work on inclusion began in January of this year.

On Saturday, 40 community members interested in helping the county become a more inclusive place to live and work attended an all-day training by the city of Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI). The training is one of six held in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties to help prepare volunteers to be facilitators for “Race: Are We So Different?,” an exhibit touring nationally and currently at the Pacific Science Center. The training event was a result of collaboration between the Pacific Science Center, the city of Seattle RSJI, and Snohomish County under the guidance of the county’s community inclusion manager. Other collaborators included Edmonds Community College, the YMCA of Snohomish County, and the Communities of Color Coalition (C3).

The city of Seattle has been working on its Race and Social Justice Initiative since 2005, starting with internal work with city employees, then branching out to work in the community. While the RSJI has accomplished a lot, much more remains to be done. Seattle’s experience with the organizational changes that must be made to eliminate institutional racism and other exclusionary practices and become more inclusive is a clear example of why the commitment here in Snohomish County must be long-term and supported by adequate resources, including personnel. What has been done by the RSJI in eight years would be humanly impossible to duplicate in the eight short months since Snohomish County’s inclusion manager was hired.

The county is now at a crossroads in its journey to create a truly inclusive community for all. Some assert that the county has made great gains in this short period and that an inclusion manager is no longer needed. Others, including C3, believe otherwise.

In an op-ed piece to The Herald on Feb. 24, 2008, we presented what we felt then to be a cogent case for an inclusion manager to lead and facilitate the implementation of inclusion principles in Snohomish County government. The need for a more inclusive approach to governance has not diminished in the five years that have passed. The population of our Snohomish County is more diverse than ever with more persons of color, more non-English speakers and languages, more non-European cultures and nationalities represented.

Our local governments are the means by which the residents of our communities collectively create and organize the resources we all depend on. But good local governance is not just about providing essential public services. Inclusive citizen-centered governance promotes a civic culture built on active citizenship and deliberative democracy involving all segments of the community.

We believe that inclusion in local government means assuring that there are no barriers that prevent historically underrepresented populations and those newly arrived from (1) being employed in the public workforce, (2) competing for service or purchasing contracts, (3) accessing public services, or (4) participating in public decision-making processes. Most of those who do the public’s work do so in personally ethical and responsible ways, but institutionalized norms and procedures can act as barriers that are both difficult to discern and beyond a single individual’s ability to correct.

Such barriers require an organization-wide effort to root out and eliminate institutionalized racism and other exclusionary practices while promoting norms that (1) prohibit bias, discrimination or racism; (2) reduce ethnocentrism by placing high value on a diverse representation of characteristics such as race, religion, sexual orientation, physical ability, age, gender, language, national origin and culture; and (3) treat diversity as an asset that helps the organization relate to and serve its community more effectively.

The Communities of Color Coalition encourages Snohomish County government to continue the necessary work to make Snohomish County a truly inclusive place to work, live, and raise a family. The inclusion manager position in Snohomish County government was created to “promote a strategic focus on inclusion principles based on a long term County wide commitment to assuring that everyone who lives in Snohomish County has access to all services that the County offers, that they have an equal opportunity to contribute to the County’s services via employment and volunteering, and that they are encouraged to participate in the decision making processes that determine public policy.”

That is inclusive governance, an essential goal that continues to need the kind of focus that a dedicated inclusion manager with both council and executive support can provide. It is a goal that we all share a stake in and should support in order to assure progress toward its achievement.

Kinuko Noborikawa, Bo Tunestam, and Therese Quinn are the executive committee of the Communities of Color Coalition (C3)

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