Maryland’s largest jurisdiction is poised to create a new policy mandating that all its actions be weighed against how they might affect equity — racial and otherwise — among its roughly 1 million residents.
The Montgomery County Council voted unanimously Tuesday to develop the policy, which mirrors similar efforts underway in Seattle, Takoma Park and Fairfax County. This month, Baltimore City Council member Brandon M. Scott (D), who is running for lieutenant governor, proposed creating a racial equity program and a multimillion-dollar fund to assist efforts to attack institutional racism in that city.
Montgomery council vice president Nancy Navarro (D-Midcounty) — who sponsored the resolution along with council member Marc Elrich (D-At Large) — said the measure probably wouldn’t be in place until the fall of 2019, after elections this November that will bring a new county executive and at least four new council members.
“I think this is a really good time, as we are in the dawn of a total leadership shift in Montgomery County, to begin to put into place some structural components that I think would continue to help us reach our ultimate policy goals,” Navarro said.
The legislation was co-sponsored by the rest of the nine-member council — including Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda) and George L. Leventhal (D-At Large), who along with Elrich are running for county executive in the June 26 Democratic primary. While the four other candidates seeking the office agreed that ending inequity was important, Tuesday’s vote also drew some skepticism.
Democrat Rose Krasnow, the county’s deputy planning director and a former mayor of Rockville, said she worried the measure would lead to “paralysis by analysis.” She also questioned the timing of the resolution: “It seems like such a political statement in an election year.”
Del. C. William Frick (D-Montgomery) said growing “private-sector jobs” and wages is the best way to eliminate disparities. Businessman David Blair applauded the vote but the Democrat wrote in an email that “we shouldn’t confuse activity with progress. . . . Where’s the progress been the past 12 years?”
The sole Republican in the race, attorney Robin Ficker, issued a statement saying, “The need for such a study now, after 3 County Executive candidates have been on the council for 10+ years each, means that there must be substantial doubt as to whether they have done their job to treat all equitably.”
Officials have long worried about wealth and other inequities in the increasingly diverse, majority-minority jurisdiction. A persistent achievement gap in the school system has left black and Hispanic students lagging behind their white and Asian counterparts in graduation rates and test scores.
“There may be people who might question why is it we need to do something like this. Montgomery County is a very welcoming and inclusive community,” council member Craig Rice (D-Upcounty) said before the vote. “We don’t have to be sick to get better. There’s always more we can do to make sure we’re truly providing all opportunities for all folks in our community.”
The new policy would add an equity analysis to the council’s bills, much like the fiscal analysis there now, Navarro said. “If we’re making decisions about land use, how is this going to address maybe a lack of affordable housing in particular areas of the county?” she said. “If we are voting to appropriate funds for an organization that is claiming to provide, let’s say, after-school programming in a majority-Latino school, do you have staff that is culturally proficient?”
The next step will be for the council’s Office of Legislative Oversight to finish a report on racial-equity policies in other jurisdictions. Chris Cihlar, who directs that office, said a consultant will be brought in to examine current county practices.
Navarro said she had been thinking about such a policy since her days on the county’s board of education. The county is also considering becoming a member of the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, a group that has about 80 member jurisdictions across the country — including Takoma Park and Fairfax County — all of which have equity policies in place.
“Our goal is to close those gaps between different racial groups and lift up outcomes for all,” said Julie Nelson, director of the group, which is affiliated with the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at the University of California at Berkeley and the nonprofit group Race Forward.
Navarro said the council probably would propose adding $40,000 to the Office of Legislative Oversight’s budget for developing the measure, and that preliminary work on the legislation would begin in the fall.