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systemic racism; inequity; kenosha county; gare; government alliance on racial equity
Protestors, activists and those generally impassioned by the death of George Floyd earlier in the year and the shooting of Jacob Blake locally in August have been a common feature of County Board meetings in 2020, highlighting the need to address systemic racism in Kenosha County. File photo by Daniel Thompson/The Uptown Observer.

KENOSHA COUNTY ⏤ Since declaring racism a public health crisis in August, many have wondered what Kenosha County is doing to continually combat systemic racism.

Division of Health Director John Jansen described steps the county has taken at a Human Services Committee meeting Tuesday night.

YouTube video
Audio of the Kenosha County Human Services Committee receiving an update on what the county is doing to combat systemic racism. Kenosha County Division of Health Director John Jansen delivered the update Tuesday night. Video by Daniel Thompson/The Uptown Observer.

These steps include the creation of the Kenosha County Racial Equity Commission. 

Kenosha County in recent weeks has also joined the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE), according to Jansen. The alliance is a national network of government “working to achieve racial equity and advance opportunities for all.”

Diversity task force 

The first initiative Jansen mentioned was the county’s new diversity task force.

 “It has county employees participating on it that are reviewing county policies and procedures, especially when it comes to hiring and retention,” he said.

He added the task force has been meeting regularly. It has also been reporting findings and comments back to the county’s Human Resources Department.

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Human Resources business partner

The county is also looking at hiring a business sponsor who specializes in diversity and inclusion.

“Human Resources is also planning on hiring a business partner that will be taking a position that will be becoming vacant by retirement,” Jansen said. “And the goal is to have that business partner have a specialty in diversity and inclusion.

“So each business partner right now has a specialty that they focus on. For example, Donna Esposito is the Human Services business partner. And her expertise is certainly in the county insurance. So this is just taking another partner and another diversity and inclusion lens available.”

The county also plans to implement racial equity training for all employees. This will especially include training for new hires, Jansen said. 

Kenosha County joins GARE

Jansen said board members will “be hearing a lot” about GARE as the county moves forward in addressing systemic racism.

“That will be a regular part of our 90-day updates on what we’re doing utilizing the tools there,” Jansen said. “For example, they have an employee survey that can go out to staff, get feedback on what they’re viewing the county as and areas that we may want to adjust some programs and policies.”

As part of GARE membership, the county will participate in two meetings per month with other GARE members. These meetings will serve as a platform to share ideas on how to advance equity in each GARE community.

Racial Equity Commission

Jansen also ran the Human Services Committee through the creation of the county’s Racial Equity Commission.

“And that’s a group that will report to the County Board Executive Committee,” he said. “And we’ll have a subgroup, of which Supervisor Gulley and Supervisor Pomaville and Supervisor Rodriguez have agreed to participate in that will begin to develop the mission, goals and membership for that racial equity commission.”

According to Jansen, and Supervisor Jerry Gulley, the workgroup committee met Wednesday, Dec. 2, to “start talking about who else we can get to participate on that group.”

“And we’ll be moving that forward with the goal of hopefully bringing that back to committee with an endorsement of how that racial equity commission would (operate) at the end of Quarter 1, beginning of Quarter 2 in 2021,” Jansen said. “… We’re really looking forward to working (with the subcommittee) to help set the mission and goals and membership for the Racial Equity Commission.”

Gulley stated that, while the workgroup will be setting up the parameters for the commission, it is “not like on the TV show ‘The Office’ where you have a committee to plan a committee.”

He stated Tuesday night that he hoped Wednesday’s meeting would “solidify the workgroup composition.”

“So that work is going on right now,” Gulley said. “And ideally, tomorrow (Wednesday) we’ll have a lot more to report.

“And I would really like to see some movement in the next couple weeks in pushing us towards that.”

Question on oversight, systemic racism in Kenosha County

Supervisor Andy Berg asked if county policies should be audited by a third party.

“If we’re talking about systemic racism and with the possibility ⏤ not saying that there is ⏤ but with the possibility of there being systemic racism in Kenosha County government or employment,” Berg said, “then shouldn’t we then have somebody from outside the employment kind of auditing it?”

Jansen responded that GARE would most likely fill that role.

“We have to come to them and say, ‘Here’s our plan moving forward, how we want to address these issues this year,’” Jansen explained. “They’re going to be wanting us to report back our progress.

“And if we get stuck, they’re here to say, ‘Hey, we’re coming in.’”

Not just made up of county residents

This could also be achieved by not requiring members of the commission to live within the county.

“I would think there could be, as you say, somebody from outside county government or of some bodies outside county government that could potentially be on that commission to continue to ask those questions and hold folks accountable,” Jansen said.

Gulley, too, answered Berg.

He said the workgroup had already reached out to people hoping to increase its diversity to better attack systemic racism.

“We have reached out to a number of people representing populations and interests west of the (interstate),” Gulley said. “We have not confirmed anyone yet, but I expect wholeheartedly that we’ll have one or two people in the workgroup with that perspective. 

“I have had a couple conversations with different people at KUSD, and one of the confirmed members of the workgroup is an actual teacher at Indian Trail who adds an incredible voice to what we’re going to try to accomplish,” he continued. “So we have definitely thought through that.

“And I think those are also great criteria we want to think about when we actually establish criteria for who would be on the commission. We’ll want to make sure that we think about that as well.”

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Daniel Thompson is an independent journalist and the founder of The Uptown Observer based in the Kenosha, Wis., area. He started in journalism at the Western Nebraska Observer in 2012 and, most notably,...