Public Statement For Los Alamos County Council On Community Diversity, Equity And Inclusion

Los Alamos

Editor’s Note: My-Linh Luong was a panelist during the Los Alamos County Council meeting Tuesday evening under an agenda item, “Follow-Up and Possible Next Steps from the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Discussion” presented by Councilor Katrina Martin

Thank you for this opportunity to speak at today’s County Council meeting with regard to the County’s efforts to promote Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. I speak today as a resident of Los Alamos County, as a public health researcher who has worked for over a decade to advance health, equity and justice, for people and communities, and as a second-generation Vietnamese-American woman.

I would like to acknowledge the original peoples of this land. The Pueblo communities and Navajo nation have ties and stories to this land and within the broader community that are connected within New Mexico. I am grateful to work here in relationship and strengthen community on this territory.

First, I acknowledge and appreciate that the County Council has committed to anti-racism work and has recognized the urgency of racial equity by initiating conversations with community members. Second, I support the recommendations that Councilor Martin has discussed with the Racial Justice Action Advisory Council and proposed for County discussion.

In addition to the recommendations proposed by Councilor Martin, I wanted to bring the Council’s attention to resources provided by the Local and Regional Government Alliance on Race & Equity (GARE for short), which is a national network of local governments working to achieve racial equity. I am happy to share GARE resources with Council, which are supported by a body of practice, and include racial equity training curricula, infrastructure models, tools and sample policies. Many of the recommendations I present to Council today are guided by GARE’s framework for success for advancing racial equity and government transformation, focused around three key components:

  • Normalizing conversations about race, racism and racial justice through a shared racial equity framework
  • Building County organizational capacity for racial equity, which requires two important components: training and infrastructure.
  • Operationalizing racial equity by implementing racial equity tools and using data to measure success of policy changes and to measure progress toward goals

First: Normalizing conversations about race, racism and racial justice through a shared racial equity framework

This includes, but is not limited to the proposed recommendation by Councilor Martin to

  • contract a trainer for implicit bias training for all County staff and elected officials and
  • discussing best practices for diversity and inclusion in recruitment in hiring.

It is critical for government employees to learn about racial equity to build capacity to implement institutional change strategies that result in better outcomes for the populations that the government serves, particularly those that have historically been underserved and marginalized by the government.

Racial equity work needs to be transformative, in that it cuts across multiple institutions and practices, and the focus is on changing policy and organizational culture. We should expect it to alter the ways institutions operate.

Re: the quality and effectiveness of implicit bias training—this training can be a gateway to additional D&I programming and education, but cannot be the only thing the county does. I want to ensure that the County commit staff time and resources toward developing a shared racial equity framework that explores the following four concepts:

  1. The historical role of government laws, policies and practices in creating and maintaining racial inequities
  2. A definition of racial equity and inequity
  3. The difference between explicit and implicit bias
  4. The difference between individual, institutional and structural change

For example, in the City of Albuquerque, Mayor Keller launched an Equity Training Initiative for city employees to enhance the role of local government in dismantling institutional inequity and building more inclusive & equitable practices.

  • The Council should create a formal commitment (e.g. adoption of legislation, a strategic plan or executive proclamation) that envisions and operationalizes the role of government to advance racial equity as a key value across the entire jurisdiction. This institutional accountability creates a sense of urgency to make changes.

We can look again to the City of Albuquerque, which has demonstrated a commitment to this transformation, by unanimously passing resolution R-20-75, which established a foundation for improving equity in City policy, processes, programs, and service delivery at the departmental level with support and direction from the City of Albuquerque’s Office of Equity and Inclusion (OEI)

  • At a minimum, the Council should update the Los Alamos County Strategic Plan to highlight racial equity as a priority area and use a racial equity framework to assess the racial impact of Council Priorities and ongoing initiatives during a Budget and Performance Measure Management review. 

Secondly, County must build organizational capacity for racial equity, which requires two important components: training and infrastructure.

The County must “demonstrate commitment to the breadth and depth of institutional transformation so that impacts are sustainable. While the leadership of elected and top officials is critical, changes take place on the ground, and infrastructure that creates racial equity experts and teams throughout local and regional government is necessary.”

This includes, but is not limited to the proposed recommendation by Councilor Martin to

  • create a council liaison/position to continue engagement with local community organizations (Racial Justice Action Advisory Council (RJAAC), Los Alamos Public Schools and state actions through Governor Lujan Grisham’s Council for Racial Justice and )
  • directly engage political leadership/elected representatives from local Pueblos and other neighboring communities to improve understanding and explore avenue for sustained

It is the responsibility of all communities to address the role of racism and privilege in communities. Although community-led initiatives are important, as a public health researcher, I know the government has played a primary role in the creation of racial inequities, including laws, policies and practices that created racial inequities, intentionally or unintentionally [REF]. As such, the county has an obligation to address racial injustice to ensure that every resident of Los Alamos County thrives. This requires the County to invest time, money, skills and effort, to ensure that racial equity is at the center of government decision making. Importantly, local government has the opportunity to have an impact on the daily lives of all county residents, *and* the power to shape policies that reduce inequities.

  • To ensure infrastructure: the County should create a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion task force, which is an advisory board that will provide guidance and expertise to the Council and County staff on diversity, equity and inclusion issues and who will be responsible for creating a strategic plan for council that formulates, develops, champions, executes specific actions and projects, and directs resources for each fiscal year. This strategic plan will be a practical roadmap that will detail strategies and actions needed to achieve racial equity in the County and improve the community quality for all residents and business.

Thirdly: the country must operationalize racial equity by implementing racial equity tools and use data to measure success of policy changes and to  measure progress toward goals

This includes, but is not limited to the proposed recommendation by Councilor Martin to review the Community Equity and Inclusion Survey to identify potential actions.

  • Since the survey data were gathered from a convenience sample (people were not randomly selected, but rather self-selected to complete the survey) there are a lot of caveats to what conclusions we can draw from the data. Also as it was advertised as a ~7min survey, I would also argue that that is an insufficient amount of time to provide quality data about several important and very complex topics. Quantitative data can be used to start a dialogue with the greater community, but it doesn’t always represent the lived experiences of people. So while I recognize that it is *some* data, it shouldn’t be used to draw definitive conclusions about what strengths and challenges the county faces related to equity and inclusion.

I recommend that if the County Councilors want to identify strengths and challenges with regard to equity and inclusion we could use several forms of data including

  • quantitative data from the Census, state & local level data, as well as
  • qualitative data (e.g. stories) to assess whether the community conditions are appropriately represented, this includes surveys with community members, qualitative surveys with government employees around racial equity policies and programs, and comments collected during community dialogue and from national racial equity groups.

This would add nuance to these already collected quantitative data and present a more whole picture of Los Alamos county resident experiences.

Implement racial equity tools: Racial inequities are not random, they have been created and sustained over time. Inequities will *not* disappear on their own. Racial equity tools must be used to change the policies, programs and practices that are perpetuating inequities, as well as used in the development of new policies and programs

Until Council has the organizational capacity to approve a full and complete application of a racial equity tool, I recommend that for the upcoming Biennial Budget, detailed budget guidelines should ask departments to be proactive in the policies, practices and procedures that advance racial equity by answering, at minimum, the following three questions:

  • What are the racial equity impacts of this particular decision?
  • Who will benefit from or be burdened by the particular decision?
  • Are there strategies to mitigate the unintended consequences?

Council should always consider alternatives to accomplishing County goals that benefit all Los Alamos county residents and surrounding communities.

Resource allocation advances racial equity and transformative change within the county.

  • I suggest that as part of the Budget and Performance Measure Management review of the previous year’s budget, and subsequent Adoption of the upcoming Biennial Budget by County Council, it is imperative that Council consciously and systematically assess the impact of both revenue generation and budgetary expenditures to ensure that all resources are equitably distributed across racial groups.

Taking the proactive approach of intentional intervention anticipates disparities, mitigates unintended negative consequences and maximizes opportunities to increase equity. The goal is not solely to eliminate disparities between racial groups, but to improve the quality of life for all Los Alamos county residents.

In closing

I believe Los Alamos should be an inclusive community where equitable success is the norm, where race and ethnicity do not predict outcomes. I believe local government is responsible for representing the interests of residents from all backgrounds and all walks of life. I believe that local government can be a powerful and proactive force for equity and inclusion, and that transformative change requires leadership buy-in and robust initiatives in order to create behavioral and institutional change. If we want to create an effective and inclusive democracy, we must act now. We have an opportunity to reimagine, reinvent and transform our systems to create an equitable community right now and an equitable community for future generations that effectively serves *all* of our community members. It’s time for Los Alamos County Council to be on the right side of history and join the counties across the country who are committed to achieving racial equity by normalizing conversations about race and racism, building organizational capacity for racial equity work, and operationalizing racial equity through the use of data and racial equity tools.

Thank you again for the opportunity to share my thoughts with Council on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.