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Part 3 in a series. Attorney Roxanne Fixsen was a member of the Charter Review Commission.
The once-every-10-years citizen review of the St. Petersburg City Charter, through the citizen Charter Review Commission (CRC), made an early decision to review the Charter through a lens of equity. This decision was based on data showing persistent and prevalent inequitable outcomes in our city and an urgency to eliminate those inequities for a competitive and resilient future. For more information about the specific data, click here.
The CRC reviewed research, scholarly articles on equity, and resources from the National League of Cities, and reviewed actions taken by other municipalities to improve equity metrics in their cities. These various research paths reflected the same theme – that there must be an intentional focus. Common actions initiated by other cities were identified.
This information informed CRC decisions and, ultimately, the proposed amendments, specifically Amendments 1 through 4. This article focuses on Amendments #3 and #4. These amendments will be on the Nov. 2nd ballot. The voters have the power to amend the Charter and to ensure city government focuses on eliminating equity gaps.
Amendment #3 seeks to bring an intentional focus on equity in all that the City does – including policymaking, procedures, and budgeting – across all departments. It requires the development of an equity framework, an equity audit of policies and procedures and rigorously inquiring about who the policies benefit and potentially harm at every step. It also stipulates the collection of disaggregated data, and the creation of equity action plans.
The amendment expressly requires each city department to implement equity action plans. It requires an annual assessment of equity action plan implementation and progress toward closing the equity gaps and an annual reporting to the public on that analysis and progress.
Amendment #3 also creates a new Charter position of Chief Equity Officer to lead these intentional efforts. The Chief Equity Officer would report directly to the mayor and is responsible for the creation and coordination of equity action plans. This officer also coordinates implementation across all city departments to integrate the equity focus and maximize impact on outcomes. This position also would be responsible for community engagement related to equity issues.
An equity framework, equity action planning across all departments, equity impact analysis across policies, procedures and budgeting, as well as a dedicated equity officer to ensure coordination and integration, will provide the intentional focus on equity that the research stated is required to close the equity gaps.
In addition, research shows that an intentional focus on equity required not only assessment, analysis and planning, but also funding for initiatives to close the equity gaps. Amendment #4 establishes a Charter-protected Equity Fund.
This amendment requires city council to make a determination each year about funding the Equity Fund. City council can allocate $1 or millions of dollars to the Equity Fund. Once monies are allocated, those dollars are protected and can only be used to close equity gaps. There are many initiatives that could be maximized to address inequities in the city if funds were protected to pay for those initiatives. Housing is a great example of this.The Equity Fund could be used as a protected trust for dollars allocated to address the affordable housing crisis. Future city council and future mayors would not be able to use these protected Equity Funds for a purpose other than equity initiatives.
The persistent and prevalent differential outcomes based on race, ethnicity and other immutable characteristics requires intentionality to prevent such outcomes. The Equity Framework and Chief Equity Officer established in Amendment #3 and the Equity Funding established in Amendment #4 provide that intentional focus of attention and resources to eliminate the equity gaps and position our city for greater competitiveness and resiliency.