With a spate of hateful graffiti in the Whiteaker and anti-immigrant rhetoric on the national level, Lane County’s timing in establishing its Equity and Access Advisory Board is fortuitous.
The 15-member commission — which still has four spots open — is tasked with guiding and advising County Administrator Steve Mokrohisky on policies and practices surrounding equity, inclusion and access both within the county government and around Lane County itself, Mokrohisky says.
The county has hired Mo Young as equity and access coordinator. Mokrohisky says the county heard from the public that people don’t just want to see it “create an advisory board and call it good.” Ironically, he says, the new board was not created with the current climate in mind.
Young herself says she is the daughter of two public defenders and was raised to believe “We do what we can to help others.” Young has previously worked for the county as well as at the human rights group Community Alliance of Lane County.
Lane County had a Human Rights Advisory Board from 1992 to 2012. Commissioner Pete Sorenson voted against its disbanding and agitated for its reinstatement. In 2014, the county says, community members also requested the board be re-established.The city of Eugene’s Human Rights Commission has been a key element in pushing the city on issues such as Indigenous People’s Day and becoming a sanctuary city.
After engaging community stakeholders on what people wanted, three priorities emerged, according to county documents: Improving recruitment retention and advancement for diverse people in county government itself; establishing a culture in Lane County that asks tough questions, gets at real issues and addresses moral, ethical and professional commitment to equity; and finally creating a culture that engages in “courageous conversations.”
Young says one challenge of the Equity Board is getting diversity on the board itself. The board can have from nine to 15 members, and at least 51 percent of the members must be “individuals who identify with underrepresented communities, or are a part of an underrepresented community.” One-third of the advisory board will be made up of people from outside of the Eugene/Springfield metro area.
Current board members lean heavily towards the 97401 South Eugene zip code, but members are also listed as living in Florence and Junction City.
Commissioner Pete Sorenson tells EW that while he sees the board as a positive that could help the county on a “wide array of equity and affirmative action issues,” he also wants to make the that the County Commission does not pass the torch on issues that need immediate action to the equity board.
He says, “A lot of people asking about sanctuary county status and commissioners have been saying to take it over to the new board.” The board is good, he says, “but we shouldn’t let the process bog things down” or let it become a “dumping ground for issues the board doesn’t want to deal with.”
Those interested in participating on Lane County’s new Equity and Access Advisory Board can go to lanecounty.org/government and select “advisory boards and committees.”