POL Government Elected Officials Commissioner Amanda Fritz Sick Time
Office of Equity, Frequently Asked Questions, 8/29/11 (web page)

Office of Equity Frequently Asked Questions


What does “equity” mean?


The City Council will adopt the Portland Plan vision and definition of equity, the current draft being:  “Equity is when everyone has access to opportunities necessary to satisfy essential needs, advance their well-being, and achieve their full potential.  We have a shared fate--as individuals within a community and communities within society.  All communities need the ability to shape their own present and future.  Equity is both the means to healthy communities and an end that benefits us all.” 



Is “equity” the same as “equality?”


No.  Some policies and practices, even if they have the appearance of fairness, may marginalize groups and perpetuate disparities.  Equity includes examination from both historical and current context, and providing corrective action to rectify disparities and achieve desired outcomes.



Is “equity” the same as “affirmative action” and/or “diversity”?


No.  Affirmative action may help add diversity in a workplace, or to those receiving services.  Equity goes beyond the numbers and types of people being employed or served.  For example, examining employment through an equity lens looks not only at total numbers employed but also at whether individuals with particular demographics are proportionately employed at all levels of an organizational structure, and whether applicants for employment and advancement are assessed on their merits rather than on their demographics.



How does the Office of Equity tie into the Portland Plan?


The Portland Plan is the strategic plan for the City of Portland.  State law requires that Portland update its Comprehensive Plan.  The plan includes 25-year goals, and five-year action plans. When adopted in 2012, it will establish priorities to respond to the most significant challenges we face over the next 25 years. In the three years spent researching and doing outreach for the Portland Plan equity emerged as a core value and priority goal for Portlanders.  The current draft of the Portland Plan calls for creation of an Office of Equity.  This ordinance is an early implementation action for the Portland Plan.  The Office of Equity will provide a structure, staffing and implementation mechanisms to coordinate and implement the Portland Plan Equity Initiative, and pursue equity elements in all City initiatives. 



Who benefits from the Portland Plan’s Equity Initiative?


The city of Portland and all community members benefit when everyone enjoys access and opportunities to enjoy Portland’s good life.  A study funded by the Hayes Foundation from USC Santa Cruz found that “a region does better when it pays attention to its poor.”



Why create an Office of Equity?


Community members asked for it, and we need it. The Urban League, Center for Intercultural Organizing, Oregon Public Health Institute, and Upstream Public Health, as well as the Portland Plan Technical Advisory Group, called for an Office of Equity and Accountability early in 2011.  Mayor Sam Adams and Commissioner Amanda Fritz agreed, and have been working with the community and City staff since February to define what is needed in the Office, and how to create it.


Portlanders have said repeatedly that the City should do more to correct disparities.  In a survey on the 2011-12 City budget, 52% of responders said that Portland has a problem with equity, and that the City government should do something about it.  The many strategies that have been tried so far have not eliminated disparities.  In fact, the disparities are worse than ever.  A more focused, systematic, strategic approach is needed.


Demographic reports show that Portland has become a more racially and ethnically diverse city, and that people of color and people with disabilities have much worse outcomes on every measured benchmark, including early death, than white people without disabilities.  Previous good-hearted attempts to correct these disparities in Portland have not improved results.  An independent bureau with direct responsibility to the Commissioner in Charge and the Mayor working in partnership is needed to provide focus, staffing and authority that will guide systemic changes throughout City government.



What is the purpose of the Office of Equity?

The purpose of the Office of Equity is to promote equity and address disparities within City government, and to work with community partners to promote equity and inclusion within Portland and throughout the region, producing measurable improvements and disparity reductions.


How will the City of Portland do this?


The Office of Equity will provide focus, support and education for all City bureaus’ work on eliminating disparities and achieving equity in Portland.   First, we need to put the City’s house in order, leading with addressing institutional racism and biases and also prioritizing equity for people with disabilities.  It will also continue and expand current work with the community fostering civil rights education and inclusion of immigrant, refugee, and disabilities communities.


The Office will work both internally, looking at policies and practices within the City, and externally with other agencies and institutions, community groups, businesses and neighbors, to find ways to decrease disparities, with measurable improvements within five years.



What is the preliminary work plan?


The Office will:

  • Work collaboratively with Bureaus, elected officials and the community;
  • Evaluate what has and has not worked in previous efforts to eliminate disparities, particularly for people of color and people with disabilities
  • Work with various City offices to develop a comprehensive data collection and tracking system;
  • Institute practical ways to set policy and implement changes that will move the City and the community towards achieving equitable outcomes for all Portlanders
  • Monitor City equity activities and establish reasonable metrics to advance the City’s equity goals;
  • Provide guidance, education and technical assistance to other bureaus on how to build capacity in achieving equitable outcomes;
  • Lead with race/ethnicity and begin working on a plan to address issues of disability;
  • Build on previous and continuing equity-related work;
  • Provide annual reports to City Council and the community that document and evaluate results in reducing disparities, and recommend changes in response to the evaluations.
  • Research and develop equity tools as needed; maintain a relationship of transparency and accountability with the community;
  • Track, advocate for, and co-lead equity and social justice initiatives in partnership with City staff, community agencies, businesses, non-profits and individuals; and 
  • Include both community members and City staff as valued participatory partners, setting up an advisory system for the Office of Equity within six months 



Why not scrap all previous work and re-assign existing staff to work in this new Office?


Work in progress has made improvements, and must continue.  The recent independent, community-reviewed Disparities Study found that but for current, successful work in the Office of Management and Finance and other bureaus, disparities would be even worse.  Education and community engagement programs in the Office of Human Relations have been successful in reaching a number of participants in the programs    Still, the current number of staff, scope of strategies, and funding are not enough to achieve the desired outcomes, due to the magnitude of the problems.



With current unemployment rates being so high, shouldn’t we wait until the economy recovers?


No. Unemployment rates are at least twice as high within communities of color, and even higher among people with disabilities.  During past times of plenty, unemployment rates have not improved for ALL Portlanders.  Research consistently demonstrates that a city’s resiliency is dependent on all its people prospering together.



What is the budget for the Office of Equity?


The budget for FY 2011-12 is $525,000.  It is an investment in implementing changes designed to lead to a more prosperous Portland for all.  The alternative is the status quo or re-shuffling the deck again, neither of which has produced the equitable outcomes that thoughtful caring Portlanders want to see.


We must spend taxpayers’ money wisely.  This is a significant expenditure.  Because some Portlanders are suffering from the recession more than others, this investment is especially crucial at this time. We must make sure those who have fallen even further behind in these tough times have opportunities to climb back as the economy improves.


Any start-up business venture requires adequate investment to be set on the path to achieving its goals.  $525,000 provides funding for three staff including the Director, with associated costs of starting and housing a new bureau and possibly providing some small grants for leveraging community-led practical projects. 



Why is the initial focus on race and disability?


Data indicates that racial and ethnic disparities and those for people with disabilities are vast across all indicators.  Programs and policies designed to eliminate race/ethnicity and disability-based disparities benefit everyone. 


People of color and people with disabilities have much worse outcomes in Portland than white people without disabilities, when matched on other factors such as education and income.  Even for those who don’t consider this morally wrong, it is economically unsound.  The best employees may be people of color and/or people with disabilities.  Maintaining a city where people of color and people with disabilities do not succeed commensurate with their abilities drives away people who would help us all prosper.  It hinders our recruitment and economic development attracting global companies.


We are becoming a more racially and ethnically diverse city, with more newcomers; a city with more income polarization in its neighborhoods; a city facing more challenges due to disabilities, particularly with an aging population.  Already, there are more children of color in our schools than white children, and more than 20% of all Portlanders dealing with disability.  If we fail to reach better outcomes for these communities, by 2035 we will have even more serious societal problems and financial burdens from the results of failure to help everyone thrive.


The City currently does not collect information on inclusion of people with disabilities.  Privacy concerns, among other things, make this challenging – but there are other jurisdictions that are meeting that challenge.  The City will lead with race/ethnicity in addressing inequities, and begin to develop systems to analyze disparities and needs for disability communities. 


Ethnicity and physical/mental attributes are integral to each of us – we cannot change the color of our skin, our place of birth, or the peak capacity of our bodies or brains.  Outcomes should depend on hard work, education, application and aptitude, not on characteristics an individual has no power to control.  Portlanders rarely talk about racism; we rarely talk about disabilities such as mental illness or physical impairments. Pretending problems don’t exist does not make the problems go away, it makes them more difficult to correct.  Intentionally owning and working to correct the problems is more likely to result in positive changes. 



How does the Office of Equity tie into other existing City programs that deal with diversity and inclusion?


The Office of Equity will build on existing equity work to reach better and more consistent outcomes.  These activities need to be strategic and focused — requiring citywide coordination and the focused attention of a Commissioner with staff dedicated to the work, and a Mayor committed to all bureaus cooperating with Equity Initiative strategies and initiatives.



Aren’t we all protected under civil rights laws?  Why do we need an office of Equity for this?


The work of the City's Civil Rights compliance program and the work of the Office of Equity will be complementary. Both work to implement and achieve the protections envisioned and required in legal civil rights statutes. In addition, the City wants to go beyond minimum legal protections in ensuring the full, effective and equitable participation in all aspects of municipal life for all people. Having organizational structures built into our City that will guide best practices implementation, technical assistance, and oversight will enable us to meet these goals.


The Office of Equity and Civil Rights Program will jointly, not redundantly, work on these functions. Equity work goes beyond the realm of Civil Rights laws and regulations to examine the larger picture, call out and recognize disproportionate outcomes that exist in throughout the region, place an emphasis on equity within City work, and take decisive action to promote greater justice.


There are a variety of legal sources of civil rights protections, including federal and state law and the City's own Civil Rights ordinance. The City regards these legal protections as the minimum baseline equity requirements. In order to ensure compliance with these basic protections, the City is required to be proactive and evaluate what is currently doing and how it can improve. For example, among federal laws affording civil rights protections is Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which provides that no person in the United States shall be excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination under any City program or activity on the ground of race, color or national origin. The purpose is to ensure that public funds are not spent in a way that encourages, subsidizes, or results in discrimination and that barriers and conditions that prevent certain underserved or traditionally underrepresented groups and persons from receiving access, participation and benefits from Federally-assisted programs, services and activities are removed. Implementing regulations require municipalities receiving federal funds to develop methods of administration or develop a system of procedures and mechanisms to assure nondiscrimination in all its programs, activities and services.  The Office of Equity will help bureaus understand and implement both the minimum standards and the spirit of the federal requirements.



Why don’t the existing bureaus just handle it?  


The bureaus have technical expertise in their service area, but not necessarily expertise in what is meant by equity or the thinking and strategies necessary to achieve it.  Council members will have to work with their bureaus to make equity a focus and priority.  The Office of Equity will educate, monitor and provide technical assistance. The Office of Equity will require all bureau work to be assessed with an equity lens specific to Portland, build the City’s capacity to use this lens consistently, and work with bureaus and the community to track and monitor outcomes.  Not all bureaus are as motivated as others to prioritize equity.  The Office of Equity will make compliance with the Civil Rights Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, and the City’s equity principles top priorities for all bureaus.



Why do we need an Office of Equity to tell bureaus what to do? Why can’t Bureau Directors or Commissioners just give the directive?


The challenges are not easily solved with simple authoritarian directives.  If that were possible, it would have been done long ago and the disparities would be eliminated already.  The Office will not dictate the direction that bureaus should take.  It will provide expertise and education, working collaboratively with bureaus to highlight areas showing effectiveness while supporting their effort to use the equity tools to elevate their work.  All Directors will be required by the Mayor to participate in an analysis of existing and proposed efforts and will be equipped by the Office of Equity staff with the right tools to strengthen what they are doing.



Will all City bureaus continue to work with all communities, or will the Office of Equity be the primary point of contact for communities experiencing disparities?


The City is required to provide equitable services to all Portlanders, and all bureaus will continue to do so.  The equity goals of the City will not be centralized in one office; rather the Office of Equity will help all the bureaus to develop capacity to meet the City’s equity goals.



Isn’t this just creating more bureaucracy?


No.  The Office of Equity will work on “equity by design”— not by coincidence or relying on good intentions, but with state-of-the-art best practice approaches that include tools for analyzing racial and social impact and for making decisions that advance equity and civil rights. This Office’s work will be systemic.  It will build capacity for more equitable government practices; it will change actual decisions and processes; and it will do so with internal and external partnerships and accountability.



What have other cities done?


The City of Seattle has proven outcomes in five years since establishing and implementing their Racial and Social Justice Initiative within their larger Office of Civil Rights.  This success has informed the development of our structure.  The Office of Equity will continue to draw from best practices both local and national to come up with what works best for Portland, in partnership with staff and community members.



How does this office intersect with County Equity, the state’s Bureau of Labor and Industry (BOLI) or other groups?  Is it duplication of effort?


We will collaborate and work with these other entities.  Achieving equity will require communication and collaboration with the cities, counties and school districts of our region, as well as private business, non-profits, academia and community groups.  The City Office of Equity will first focus internally, on putting our own house in order, so it is not duplication of effort.



What about equity as it relates to LGBTQ, gender, geography, age, and class?


The Office of Equity intends to address all areas of equity as capacity is developed.  Data shows us that disparities are greatest across indicators, controlling for all other factors, considering race and disability.  Leading with race and prioritizing work on disability will provide the best foundation for work on other disparities.



How does the Multnomah County Office of Equity differ from this one?


Portland's Office of Equity will focus first on City of Portland internal practices, and how as an employer, contractor, partner and administrator the City addresses disparities. The County Office is looking at these factors within the realm of County issues and the County government structure.   The two processes will support and partner together, especially once each agency is ready to work on a regional Equity Initiative.  The City has already taken some of the steps to drive more equitable outcomes that the County is now considering. 



How is this different from the Office of Human Relations and other past and present efforts?


The first key difference in the new Office compared with the Office of Human Relations and other programs working on equity is that success of the Equity Initiative and Office of Equity depends on shared ownership.  We need real collaboration, balanced power sharing, and transparent accountability within government and between government and all our diverse communities. 


The second major difference is the Office of Equity’s focus leading with race and with priority attention on disabilities, within the City of Portland’s internal policies and practices.  The Office of Human Relations has a variety of programs that develop community intergroup relations, and relationships between communities and police.  While this work will continue in the Office of Equity, the Director and new staff will also focus on internal analysis and capacity building that will improve how the City does business and provides services in all bureaus.



Is the Office of Human Relations being dissolved? 


Not yet.  The Office of Equity is being established first, by this ordinance.  Once the Director is hired, the work of the Office of Human Relations will be continued and expanded in the new structure.  Staff in the Office of Human Relations will continue to work on their established programs with assistance from Commissioner Fritz’s office in the meantime.  In the fall or winter, there will be a Public Hearing on an ordinance before Council to bring OHR’s staff and programs into the Office of Equity.



Will the Human Rights Commission be connected to the Office of Equity?


The Human Rights Commission has not yet decided how the Commission wants to relate to the Office of Equity.  The relationship will be identified when the ordinance regarding the Office of Human Relations is brought to Council in the fall or winter. 



What staff positions are being approved in this ordinance?


The Director of the Office of Equity position is being created with this ordinance.  The funding approved in the FY 2011-12 budget allows for two additional positions, but creating these positions will come back to Council at a later date for approval.



What comes next?


A substitute Ordinance incorporating feedback on the draft ordinance and work plan received by 8/29 will be posted on Commissioner Fritz’s web site and sent to the Interested Persons list for the Office of Equity, on Tuesday evening, August 30.

The Ordinance hearing on Wednesday August 31 is a “First Reading”, with the vote on the “Second Reading” likely to take place on September 7.  After the Ordinance is passed, the job description development and position posting for the Director will proceed. The Creation Committee of community and staff advisors will continue to meet and work with Commissioner Fritz and Mayor Adams on these and other tasks.  The Director will be hired with community input, with the final decision made by Commissioner Fritz and Mayor Adams.  The Director will then work with Commissioner Fritz, Mayor Adams, and community and staff advisors to finalize the initial work plan and bring it back to Council by the end of March 2012. 



How can I give feedback about the Office of Equity creation ordinance?


On Wednesday, August 31, 2011, at 6:00 p.m. in City Hall, Portland City Council will hold a Public Hearing on the ordinance creating the Office of Equity and the Office’s initial work plan.  Public testimony will be taken at that time.  If you are unable to attend, please send comments to sara.hussein@portlandoregon.gov by 5 p.m. on 8/31/11.