BY RANDALL RYTI
Los Alamos County Councilor
Council continues to include “welcoming” in the second sentence of our vision statement “Extraordinary educational, recreational, and cultural opportunities abound in a vibrant and welcoming small-town atmosphere situated in a magnificent mountain setting.” We also have identified Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity (DEI) as one of our 21 priorities. What does it mean to be welcoming and how do we make progress on DEI?
First, some background on how this issue got raised to Council and what actions we have taken so far. In December 2020, Councilor Katrina Martin presented some information based on meetings with local citizens after a national call to racial justice and equity that started in summer 2020. Results of a non-statistical citizen survey (241 respondents) were presented at the December 2020 meeting to get an initial assessment of how welcoming or not Los Alamos County is for various groups.
Los Alamos Racial Justice Action Advisory Council (RJAAC) and other citizens petitioned Council to create a Racial Equity and Inclusivity (REI) Task Force, which we did in March 2021. The REI Task Force presented their final report to Council in August 2022, which we accepted and asked that budget options be developed for their recommendations. Their first recommendation was to create a citizen board or commission as their work scope was not completed.
Council discussed this recommendation at our January 24, 2023 meeting and I suggested that REI continue as a working group. A working group alternative was proposed by County staff for an existing task force and some committees. Although the specifics of a working group structure were not detailed it appeared this alternate form of citizen input might address some of the operational issues raised by the REI Task Force. It would let the County continue the dialog and make progress on items in the REI Task Force charter that were not completed. On March 14, 2023, Council voted 6-1 not to establish a REI Board or Commission. I was in opposition.
To follow up on the 2020 survey, the 2022 community statistical survey posed some custom questions to access if respondents had experienced discrimination or if the community was welcoming or not to various groups. A statistical survey of the County is designed to mirror the demographic characteristics of the residents; it should reflect the race, age, gender, rent/own, etc. of people in Los Alamos County. Consequently, 74% or nearly three-quarters are white and not Hispanic or Latino.
Respondents were asked if they had personally experienced discrimination in the past year:
- 3% reported most of the time,
- 11% said some of the time,
- 21% reported rarely, and
- 66% reported never.
These are the County-wide rates, which should at least raise concerns, but what are the rates for 26% of the County that is non-white?
The 2022 survey also asked people if they thought the County was very welcoming, mostly welcoming, slightly welcoming, or not welcoming to a range of population groups. The highest responses for very welcoming were for people who are white (66%), men (64%), and people of Christian faith (53%), and women (44%). Excluding these four groups the range of not welcoming fractions were 3% to 11% and slightly welcoming were 13% to 30%. The two groups thought to be least welcome were people of Islamic faith or people who are Black or African American. The survey indicates at least a perception of residents that some groups are more welcome than others. This is not consistent with the vision statement.
The other key demographic to consider is that most of the employees in the County reside outside of Los Alamos County. The neighboring counties of Sandoval and Santa Fe are far more diverse, and Rio Arriba County is somewhat more diverse than Los Alamos County. In terms of the white population fraction, Los Alamos County is the fourth highest in New Mexico among the 33 counties. None of our neighboring counties are close to our fraction. Although surveying people working in the County but who are not residents was a point of discussion for the REI Task Force it was not one of their recommendations. How do people who work in the County and do not live here perceive being welcomed? At this point we do not know.
The County is planning to act on the DEI recommendations mentioned in our strategic priorities – supporting community wide awareness training and events and promoting recreation interests for diverse interests. However, there is no opportunity for progress without intention. The County can show its intent to act as an employer with a valued, diverse population through establishment of an internal DEI committee. This might help provide some input on the question posed above regarding workers. The REI Task Force report also mentioned collaborating with other employers; they mentioned Triad specifically, but I would also add the local schools. The County can add accessibility to DEI and create a DEIA policy and metrics. Council could do likewise and modify our DEI policy goal accordingly. These changes and efforts would go toward showing intent.
If you have any comments on this letter, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach the entire Council at ~CountyCouncil@lacnm.us.