A new ordinance introduced to Allegheny County Council seeks to require periodic review of county authorities and agencies to ensure racial, gender, age, disability, religious and sexual-orientation diversity.
The 11 authorities, 20 agencies and 10 nonprofits that are subject to the administrative code of Allegheny County undergo financial reviews every four years. The amendment would require an audit by the county controller with respect to diversity at least every three years.
The legislation, introduced to council during a regular meeting on April 4 by William Russell Robinson, would seek a review of county authorities and departments to determine what methods they have in place to ensure diversity in staffing and contracting.
"I think that it's not only time, it's past time that the county makes sure that what it's saying is consistent," Robinson says. The bill says the county has "historically had a policy embracing racial, gender and other diversity in the hiring and personnel practices" and that the county has "lofty diversity expectations."
He says that the county has well-established protocols in place for insuring diversity, but that without a consistent way of looking at hiring and contracting decisions, it's not always apparent where failures are occurring. The legislation would mostly involve existing data, and likely won't be a costly undertaking.
According to a 2005 study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University and the Women and Girls Foundation, African Americans made up 12 percent of the county's population and were appointed to about 22 percent of the boards and authorities. However, women made up 52 percent of the population and just 29 percent of board memberships.
Tim Stevens of the Black Political Empowerment Project says the proposed legislation is well in line with goals B-PEP has been working on. Having policies codified, he says, keeps them from being implemented at the whim of whoever the mayor or county executive might be. "You wouldn't study hard in school if you didn't know you were going to have to take tests," he says.
At the council meeting, the bill was referred to the committee on governmental reform, chaired by council President Rich Fitzgerald.
"We've been doing a lot to bring consistency to how we operate government," Fitzgerald says. "There's always questions about these independent authorities and how they can operate -- Councilman Robinson is looking to make sure they have plans in place, reporting mechanisms on what is your diversity plan."
The legislation can and should create benchmarks for inclusion, Robinson says. "There are some people who are a little apprehensive about goals and timetables. I'm not one of those people," he said.