Routt County officials prefer policy that promotes equity over comfort |

Routt County officials prefer policy that promotes equity over comfort

Community members celebrate LGBTQ Pride in front of the Routt County Courthouse last summer in Steamboat Springs.
Bryce Martin/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Routt County is drafting a new diversity, equity and inclusion policy for county employees that county attorney Erick Knaus hopes goes beyond a vision statement.

The new policy has been in the works for several weeks with Knaus attending various classes and reviewing similar policies from across the country. Some were 30 pages long while others were just a simple statement of values.

“The approach was to have something fairly simple, but my first priority was to develop something that has teeth to it,” Knaus told Routt County Commissioners on Monday, March 20.

The draft policy is just over a page and includes eight action items for county employees and officials to take, such as attending diversity and inclusion training, and developing a system to be more intentional and conscious of implicit bias during the hiring and staff evaluation process.

Steamboat Springs has put an emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion, often referred to as DEI, in recent years, with council spending $30,000 in 2020 for a DEI audit and each department participating in multi-day training.

Knaus said that county employees already get harassment training, and many of the county’s employees have completed specific DEI training. However, he emphasized this training is not as simple as many people might think.

“We know not to engage in racist or gender-biased ways — we get that from other trainings,” Knaus said. “These are the right things to do, especially in the workplace when we all have or should have common goals.”

Commissioner Tim Redmond, Routt County’s first Black commissioner, said many local nonprofits ask him to serve on their DEI-focused committees.

“I make a statement to them at that point that I will serve, but I will not be your token to make you look good,” Redmond said. “They find that I push the envelope, maybe a little more than they’re comfortable with.”

Redmond said he was supportive of the idea but didn’t think Knaus’ draft went far enough, and Redmond asked to follow up with Knaus to share specific changes.

Knaus said he wanted to avoid making the policy too “preachy” because policies like that tend not to get buy in from employees. That said, Knaus still wanted the policy to challenge employees to consider their own potential bias.

Commissioner Beth Melton emphasized that change does not come by having employees read a new policy, but by changing the culture within an organization.

“If you’re not making people uncomfortable to some degree, that change isn’t going to happen,” Melton said.

Redmond agreed, saying that when people start to show signs of discomfort is when change can start to happen. He pointed to pushback to Starbucks adding prompts to talk about race on coffee cups and the New York Time’s 1619 project, which commemorated the 400th anniversary of slaves arriving in America.

“It is my personal opinion, when you start to hear people squeal, you’re in the right neighborhood,” Redmond said.

“If any of our staff are offended by this, or don’t like it, they could always go look for another job,” said Commissioner Tim Corrigan.

Kathy Nelson, human resources director for the county, said she didn’t think this was just about training or a policy, but it has to be a culture change.

She pointed to an internal investigation in which several employees were clueless to how offensive their language was to others, even though it seemed pretty obvious.

“When it comes to being preachy, what about the people who are uncomfortable every day?” Nelson asked. “I’m less worried about being preachy and making some people feel uncomfortable than allowing us to have a work environment where there are people who are uncomfortable and can’t do anything about it.”

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