Clallam County eyes equity agenda

Clallam County commissioners have identified a “dual-path forward” for improved equity in the county, Chairman Mark Ozias said.

Ozias on Monday, May 10, introduced a proposed equity agenda and resolution condemning discrimination that attempted to capture the spirit, language and direction the three commissioners had discussed in 2020.

After more discussion Monday, the board directed County Administrator/Human Resources Director Rich Sill to work with department heads on internal hiring practices and ways to measure success for equity.

Meanwhile, Ozias said he would “put a little bit more thought” into an equity advocacy strategy that may involve conversations with state legislators, school district officials and others.

“The point of calling this out, in my mind, is to ensure that we have some intentional focus on something that’s important,” Ozias said in the commissioners’ work session.

“If a good portion of what we’re doing is just doing a better job of reminding ourselves and reminding the community of what we’re already doing, that in and of itself has some value as well.”

The draft resolution, which is available in the commissioners’ meeting packet, states that “all residents of Clallam County are entitled to equal civil rights; that hate, bigotry and violations of civil rights be opposed by all and that we recognize and celebrate the ethnic, racial, cultural, religious and social diversity of our community.”

Commissioner Randy Johnson said he “really appreciated” a sentence in Ozias’ proposed equity agenda that states: “Equal opportunity is the bedrock of American democracy.”

“The B part, which wasn’t brought up … is that if we don’t equalize our schooling for everyone across the board, we will never get there,” Johnson said.

Johnson compared funding disparities for wealthy school districts like Bellevue against rural school districts in Forks and Mississippi.

“All governments should be saying the McCleary decision was great, but we didn’t equalize our school funding,” Johnson said, referring to the state Supreme Court mandate for the Legislature to fully fund basic education.

“I’m sorry, but we need to keep pounding on that.”

Approved by a bipartisan Legislature in 2017, the McCleary solution provided more than $1 billion in funding for basic education and raised teacher salaries. It also capped local levies at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, or $2,500 per full-time student, whichever is less.

At the time, officials with several North Olympic Peninsula school districts said the McCleary funding model disproportionately impacted districts with relatively low land values and higher levies.

“To me, if we’re going to have equality across the board — equal opportunity to succeed is the key — if we’re going to have that, we need to equalize schools,” Johnson said.

“We need to have something that says, ‘We’re going to equalize schooling across the board.’”

Ozias said it would be important for Clallam County to focus on what it can affect.

“Broadband is one example where county government could consider making intentional investments to promote or improve equal access in schools,” Ozias said.

Commissioner Bill Peach said he had a “bit of concern” about the action plan that Ozias had proposed in his equity agenda.

“The first concern is how do we measure our improvement, assuming there’s a need for improvement, and that I’m not really sure of,” Peach said.

Peach added he would continue to be an advocate for people on the lower end of the economic spectrum.

Based on Clallam County’s demographics, Sill told commissioners that ageism was a potential micro-level equity issue for the county.

“We track how we reflect the community,” Sill said of the county’s hiring practices.

“And by the way, this county government, your staffing in this government, is almost right down to the percentage point reflecting the makeup of the community.”

Ozias said there was “much diversity” of age, gender, background and opinion already within the county organization.

He offered to work with Sill and other county leaders on ways to better promote equity in Clallam County.

“I really want to do something that’s meaningful,” Ozias said.

Ozias said he agreed with Johnson’s belief that equity begins in schools.

“As a county government, there’s only so much we can do,” Ozias said.

“The problem is much greater than just county government.”