Steamboat Springs City Council agrees to spend $30K on DEI audit
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs City Council unanimously agreed Tuesday to hire a professional auditor to oversee a diversity, equity and inclusion audit for the city.
In 2019, council discussed funding a DEI audit and placed the expense in the 2020 budget. But due to COVID-19, budget cuts were made earlier in the year, which forced council to push the item back. The racial justice movements this summer, sparked by the police killing of George Floyd, encouraged council members to bring the DEI issue back to the forefront.
“We know that a lot has gone on this summer that has inspired other organizations to start looking into DEI work,” said Council Member Lisel Petis, who co-chaired the initiative. “I’m very happy that all seven of us have realized it’s a priority.”
The council has designated $30,000 toward the audit, and the city plans to hire Maria Velasco, founder and CEO of Boulder-based Beyond Inclusion Group.
“Getting the money to hire a consultant I think is the best thing we can do,” Petis said. “We are not a very diverse council, and we may not have a lot of lived experience to say how we can do better.”
Petis and co-chair Sonja Macys said they hope Velasco focuses on four specific initiatives: reviewing current policies through an equity lens, providing opportunities to gain a better understanding of DEI, ensuring culturally and linguistically appropriate services within the city and supporting the creation of an inclusive workplace climate.
While the audit is technically a council initiative, city leaders view it as much more than that.
“This is not an initiative; this is an organizational transformation,” said City Manager Gary Suiter.
Several council members also discussed the need for implicit bias training, which has gained popularity in organizations across the country.
“That’s such a huge one. Everyone has an implicit bias, and it’s good for us to understand what those are and how we can work against them,” Petis said.
Enrique Maestas, a sociology professor at Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs who focuses primarily on race relations, told the council he’s suspicious of implicit bias training and believes stronger education is needed.
“We are in the problem that we’re in because those things do not work,” he said. “What I’m seeing now is a shift of consciousness. We have that to build on, but we have to be careful about not retreading the old act.”
Macys, who grew up in the South, said she witnessed “far more racism than anyone ever should” during her upbringing. She encouraged her fellow council members to begin looking inward and begin searching for ways to work on the issue before the auditor begins her work.
“What we can do, even without a budget, is work on ourselves,” she said.
According to Petis, one of the most-needed improvements to diversity, equity and inclusion is work in “language justice,” such as providing translators for non-English speakers if they wish to speak to council and helping those individuals feel more included in the community.
“It’ll take time to implement, but I’m glad we’re getting started and moving ahead with it,” said Council President Jason Lacy.
In addition to implicit bias training, Petis and Suiter both stressed the need for intervention training, both for adults in the community as well as younger children in schools.
“Discrimination, bias and bigotry are taught, “ Suiter said. “You aren’t born with them.”
All seven council members agreed on the need to hire a professional consultant. A final vote on the matter will take place at the Dec. 1 council meeting.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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