Despite a shortage of public activity, the city of Rochester and the County of Monroe say they have not forgotten the recommendations of the report of the Commission on Racial and Structural Equity (RASE), now four months old.
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren and Monroe County Director Adam Bello recently responded to several dozen nonprofit community leaders who kindly berated them in an open letter last month.
The leaders, organized through the Urban League of Rochester and calling themselves “the Rochester Powerbrokers,” said they were “deeply concerned that the hard work of the Commission could end up on a shelf without a clear plan for implementation and monitoring “.
The RASE commission was convened in June 2020 and tasked with developing a wide range of recommendations to tackle inequality in Monroe County, one of the most racially segregated places in the country.
Its report, published in March 2021, gave dozens of such recommendations. The emphasis was on better access to employment opportunities and wealth creation for non-white residents; an end to racially disproportionate practices in police services, social services and education; greater collaboration with external partners; and transparency.
Warren and Bello joined other local leaders in applauding the report when it is released. Since then, however, there has been little news. The commission’s website, rocrase.com, shows no evidence of an update since March.
“The city and county have had the RASE commission report in hand since March 16, almost a year after Daniel Prude was killed on our own streets,” they wrote in June. “Three months later, we are not seeing the results we would expect with such a clear set of recommendations and broad community support and interest in a more equitable Rochester.”
A commitment to follow
The most notable action to emerge from the report is $ 1 million in the 2021-2022 city budget earmarked for implementing the recommendations.
The first part of that money, a purchase of software to streamline the bidding process for minority and women-owned businesses, was presented to city council on July 20. Warren presented it as proof that the RASE recommendations are “an immediate priority”.
City council member Mitch Gruber, who served on the RASE commission, said he supported the focus on MWBE in general, but wanted to see a more transparent process in how the city distributes the allocated million dollars. .
“I have yet to see what the process is that got us there (spending $ 150,000) and what it will be for the rest of the money,” he said last week. .
“RASE was a very intentionally public process with a lot of community engagement that led us to a place with a lot of ideas to work on. … We need a (similar) process to determine what recommendations we want to put. implemented and how we want to implement them.
Monroe County announced in May a new minimum hourly wage of $ 15 for employees and contractors. It also established an office for diversity, equity and inclusion and took steps to improve access to languages, an area highlighted in the report.
“It’s going too slow”
Still, said Bill Johnson, co-chair of ASR and former mayor: “It’s going too slowly.”
He acknowledged measures such as raising the minimum wage and Warren’s stated interest in exploring reparations. He also said that Warren’s main campaign and now his lame duck six month period could lead to a dissipation of energy and attention.
“They continue to assure me that they have this process and that they want to be very thoughtful and deliberate,” Johnson said. “There has been too much silence in my opinion, certainly in terms of the more affirmative spelling of the implementation strategy.”
Warren and Bello both responded to Powerbrokers describing their three-step implementation approach. The first was a joint review of the report’s recommendations to categorize them by time frame, priority and responsible party.
After: Read city and county responses to the “Powerbrokers of Rochester” letter
The next phase, which will take place this summer, is devoted to recruiting “actors, organizations and community leaders, who will serve as champions and take ownership of the recommendations… outside of county or city authority. Bello wrote.
During the third phase, starting in the fall, work will begin in earnest. Warren also promised to create a “RASE council” to move the project forward and monitor its progress.
The Powerbrokers letter lists a number of steps that signatories say could already have been accomplished, including passing a local fair housing law, working with the Center of Governmental Research to develop a plan for tracking progress and developing a “community-wide graph.” advance the campaign in social and traditional media. “
The letter writers also underscore ASR’s recommendation to offer more services through community organizations. Respecting this commitment to decentralization, they note, “would require a significant investment of resources” in organizations like theirs. Most of Rochester’s largest social service nonprofits are represented in the letter and would benefit from such a move.
Urban League of Rochester President and CEO Seanelle Hawkins said there was no personal interest in the call for resources. On the contrary, she said, nonprofits dedicated to fighting poverty should aim to make themselves obsolete.
“I keep telling our board, ‘I’m going to shut us down,'” she said. The Powerbrokers group is not supposed to be a standing body, she said, but has scheduled meetings until the end of 2021.
Hawkins said she was withholding judgment on Bello and Warren’s commitments regarding their RASE implementation plans.
“It has to be a workable change; that’s what the report calls for,” she said. “I see this as a joint collaboration. And we, the Powerbrokers, are now part of the process.”
Contact editor Justin Murphy at [email protected]