Chair Kafoury sets dates, outlines plan to address systemic racism

September 28, 2017

Chair Deborah Kafoury has set a spring 2018 deadline to see progress in workforce equity efforts and a review of the county’s employment practices and human resource structures that may perpetuate systemic racism.

The Chair and Chief Operating Officer Marissa Madrigal met Tuesday with Health Department supervisors and managers to answer questions about the recent changes in leadership and to repeat their commitment to address institutional racism within Multnomah County.

After nearly two hours of discussion, several staff members encouraged the county leaders to keep meeting and sharing information, to “over-communicate” during this time of confusion, hurt and frustration.

“We know there is institutional racism at Multnomah County. This is an organization that was built on the backs of people who didn’t have a voice,’’ the Chair told more than 100 managers and supervisors at their quarterly meeting. “It will be long, hard process. It's going to take a lot of open conversation and reflection. I do know that we are committed, your Board of Commissioners is committed."

Working with the Board, the Chair has directed Chief Operating Officer Marissa Madrigal to:
  • Hire a national consulting firm with expertise in dismantling structural racism in public institutions. The consultant would be charged with producing a report by June 2018. The firm will:
    • Examine the county’s decentralized human resources structure.
    • Evaluate the county’s entire employment cycle including policies and practices from hiring to termination.
    • Review the complaint and investigation process, with select case studies of complaints, including the former Public Health Director, Tricia Tillman.
  • Elevate all racial complaints to the COO and Department Directors. Employees can still register complaints in the usual ways, from calling the good government hotline at 888-289-6839 to talking to their supervisors. But for the first time, all complaints will be sent to the highest level. “We want to have line of sight on what’s happening across the county,’’ said  COO Madrigal said.
  • Collaborate with county employees, community members and the Office of Diversity and Equity in developing the new Workforce Equity strategy. The plan was approved by Commissioners Sharon Meieran, Loretta Smith, Jessica Vega Pederson and Lori Stegmann on Sept. 14. It targets the structural issues that result in disparities in pay, hiring, promotions and other work issues due to race, ethnicity, national origin, disability, gender, sexual orientation and other protected class identities. The Chair is personally sponsoring this broad effort and has set a March 2018 delivery date.

Chair Kafoury said the outside consultant and the internal Workforce Equity work must move forward on parallel tracks to ensure the county is making progress as quickly as possible. In the meantime, COO Madrigal will collect complaints and also feed information and lessons into the consultant’s process.

“People don’t feel complaints are being heard, so we are trying to address that in the short term,’’ Madrigal said.”Long-term, we have to address structure and process.’’

The Chair thanked two senior managers for shouldering much of the transition at the Health Department: Wendy Lear, who she has appointed interim Health Department Director, and Vanetta Abdellatif, who continues to lead Integrated Clinical Services.

COO Madrigal said a national search -- and local talent-- will be considered in the search for a new Health Department Director to lead this “world-class organization.’’ She urged employees to reach out about concerns.

“If you see a gap or encounter barriers, communicate directly with us. We want to know. Let us know how to help you. The more specific, the better,’’ the Chief Operating Officer said.