Dover council considers affirmative action plan for city

DOVER — Armed with the results of a diversity assessment of the city of Dover and its police department, Dover City Councilmen Roy Sudler Jr. and David Anderson are asking city leaders to consider developing an affirmative action plan.

The Bethesda, Maryland-based IVY Planning Group conducted the Diversity and Inclusion Assessment and made recommendations to improve the city’s hiring practices and work environments within city departments and the police force. Officials presented results at the Council Committee of the Whole’s Legislative, Finance and Administration Committee meeting on Jan. 14.

David Anderson

While the assessment was on the agenda as a “discussion” matter, Councilman Anderson formally referred the matter to city staff for further study, in hopes of developing an affirmative action plan. The motion carried unanimously.

“Although several methods exist for organizations and government to improve diversity, few as are efficient as affirmative action strategies additionally created to address historical discrimination against disadvantaged groups, women and racial minorities,” Councilman Sudler said. “Affirmative action plans now play a central role in diversifying the workplace and adding to economic prosperity.”

He then requested that Dover City Manager Donna Mitchell inform the committee of what the city’s plan or policy currently is for attracting minority job candidates.

“The city does not have an affirmative action policy,” Mrs. Mitchell said. “In looking at it myself, trying to understand it, (affirmative action) is something that just doesn’t relate to personnel, it relates to all the city business. So, to develop a policy, we’ve got to make sure it covers all areas that it should be covered, not just personnel, although that’s a vital part of it. It’s something that we’ve got to develop.

“One of the things that we were waiting for was this study and the strategic plan that they’re going to give us to help us formulate all this and pull it together.”

Councilman Anderson noted a major gap between white and minority employment within the city of Dover’s offices, especially in the higher leadership positions.

“We need to value each and every person,” he said. “We don’t want a tug-of-war. This isn’t about a ‘spoil system’ or excluding anyone, but a truly inclusive environment. We (need to) start to be more inclusive in our diversity of application pool where we understand the process and why we’re losing quality applicants. Not having a good, quality diverse pool of applicants is a bad thing. Then once we get people, are they being fairly treated in the promotion system?

“We have a city that is really a no-majority population, but when you look at the top 20 city leaders you basically have a reign of minority leadership that is single-digit percentages and you have to ask, ‘Is there some disconnect?’”

City takes deep look at itself

Gary Smith, founding partner of IVY, along with Dina Abercrombie, presented the D&I assessment to members of the Legislative, Finance and Administration Committee.

Mr. Smith said city and police staff, as part of the assessment, were grouped into sessions by job role/function or by demographic grouping, including gender and/or race/ethnicity. Interviews and a total of nine focus groups were conducted that lasted around an hour-and-a-half each.

Participation rates for the city were reported to be 39 percent, which Ms. Abercrombie said were about normal for such studies.

Among IVY’s recommendations to the city and to police department were to make the assessment available to the employee population, display leadership commitment to the D&I strategy of having specific action goals for all supervisors and above, and having leaders develop diversity training. The city and police force also received recommendations for each of their specific areas.

“As much as you can incorporate diversity and inclusion as an element, the leadership of an organization, the leadership of an agency, and their commitment to leading and creating diversity, inclusion accountability, goes a long way to determining whether or not a project will be successful,” Mr. Smith said, adding that the city needs to focus on training younger workers to become leaders.

There are studies that suggest that affirmative action policies don’t always achieve the positive results that they seek.

Ballotpedia.org, discussing affirmative action policies in Delaware, wrote, “The effects of affirmative action policies are contested. Proponents argue that affirmative action diversifies selective institutions and provides more opportunities to minorities. Opponents argue that implementing policies that favor some groups requires discrimination against others and that these policies may harm individuals they are meant to help.”

Councilman Sudler said opponents to affirmative action plans are often framed in terms of procedural and distributive justice violations where the violation occurs when individuals perceive that opportunities are not earmarked based solely on merit.

Roy Sudler

“Unfortunately, according to the Diversity and Inclusion Assessment for the city of Dover, opportunities are clear and inconsistent for people of color,” he said. “The statement of a perceived violation of employee advancement indicates to the reader that it appears that something more than current anti-discrimination policies is needed to bring about change in the workforce for the city of Dover.

“Therefore, I believe that it is vital that city council consider a discussion centered on the empirical evidence on the effects of quotas on the representation of women and ethnic groups (in the hiring process). One of the main reasons we brought this to the forefront is that from my knowledge there hasn’t been too much discussion regarding this matter.”

Mr. Sudler noted that the D&I Assessment states that “Many respondents shared that people advance based more on relationships than merit,” when it comes to the city of Dover.

Assessment into action

The D&I Assessment noted that the Dover Human Relations Commission conducted a diversity research study in 2016 that produced nine recommendations and they found little evidence that any of the recommendations outlined in the plan were met.

Councilman Tim Slavin said that needs to change with the findings of the new assessment.

“Your findings echo what we’ve been hearing in the community but … (looking) at the data behind it, you made the question, ‘How do we use the data now to drive the reform that we need?’ That is a transformational moment for our leaders,” he said. “If we were to stop with the publication of this study and say, ‘Thank you for your time,’ we would have done half the job. The other half is, ‘How do we take this and implement this?’”

Mr. Smith said his organization has plans with which the city can embark on a successful diversity and inclusion plan.

“I would tell every agency, master the phrase of ‘Up until now,’ because it’s the only way to explain, ‘Yesterday it was this way and tomorrow it’s going to be different,’ and here’s why you ought to give us the time to try,” he said. “That’s really what the city’s asking for more than anything. None of these changes are happening with the flip of the light switch. What you’re really asking for is time that people will give you to implement your strategies.”

Councilman Fred Neil said incorporating diversity in the city’s hiring practice just makes sense and that he is committed to it.

“We have a very difficult time finding competent people,” he said. “What a marvelous opportunity this is to be able to develop and find these competent people regardless of their color, regardless of their gender, regardless of their ethnic background and be able to fill with competent people the jobs that we need to have filled.”