A coalition of Muslim activists has written County Executive Marc Elrich and the county council expressing their frustration that no members of their community were selected for the county’s new Commission on Racial Equity and Social Justice. Their letter appears below.
August 5, 2020
Dear Executive Elrich and Montgomery County Councilmembers,
We are a coalition of Muslim activists and allies affiliated with a broad array of local and national Muslim organizations and mosques. Many of us are also active in non-faith-based organizations seeking to promote diversity, inclusion, and social justice in our county. The Montgomery County Muslim community is frustrated and deeply disappointed that the County’s newly formed Commission on Racial Equity and Social Justice excludes any Muslim representation. Many of us met with the County Executive in December 2019 to convey our concerns about being marginalized and asked that our community be represented on the Commission. Our understanding was that this request was agreed to and we spent considerable time vetting and offering you a candidate.
Ten percent of County residents are Muslim. Moreover, the Muslim community is intersectional with marginalized groups. Twenty percent of Muslims are Black and many are first-generation immigrants. It is thus disheartening that there have been a number of documented instances of discrimination and violation of our civil rights by our own county officials.
What is even more disturbing about this continued marginalization of our community is that one of your appointees to the Commission, Jim Stowe was actively involved in both the CAIR blacklist and the surveillance program.
The Commission on Racial Equity and Social Justice must reflect the diversity of our County in gender, race, ethnicity and yes, religious affiliation. We hope that Mr. Stowe has come to understand that his past acts and views served to marginalize our community and are not aligned with the Commission’s mandate which is to promote inclusiveness and work against prejudice of all forms and the otherization of minority communities. This includes being aware of and addressing anti-Muslim sentiment.
It is unfortunate that the Commission does not have a Muslim member. We ask that you seek alternative ways to ensure Muslim representation so that our unique and important concerns can be heard. The American-Muslim experience is one faced by Black people and other people of color as well as immigrant communities and minority communities of faith. The American-Muslim voice must be present if the new efforts of the County Council to improve social justice and bring about racial equity is to have legitimacy.
Salahudeen Abdul Kareem Saqib Ali Basem Bakir Ilhan Cagri Hisham Garti Fariha Haque Samira Hussein Deeba Jafri Susan Kerin Tasnuva Khan Idris Mokhtarzada Sara Rahnama Aref Ramadan Rida Bukhari Rizvi
Over the weekend, Council Member Will Jawando announced his intention to introduce a resolution “declaring racism a public health emergency in Montgomery County.” His statement on Facebook appears below.
Of course, the county already has a law designed to deal with racial disparities of all kinds: the Racial Equity Law.
What happened to it?
Work on the law began in April 2018, when the county council passed a resolution lead-sponsored by Nancy Navarro and Marc Elrich calling for “an equity policy framework in county government.” The resolution stated:
The Council is committed to examining the data needed to develop an equity policy framework that would require the County to question how budget and policy decisions impact equity.
This effort must be a partnership between the County Council, County Executive, County Government, county agencies, institutions, and our community. The County Government must challenge itself to bring new and different partners to the table. Partnering with other jurisdictions as members of the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) will also enhance the County’s effort and commitment to fostering equity.
Equity analyses should be part of capital and operating budget reviews, appropriation requests, and legislation. Program and process oversight should be undertaken viewing programs and processes through an equity lens. Equity targets and measures of progress must be put in place.
So what are the major provisions of the law and how is the county doing on implementing them? Let’s discuss a few.
1. The executive must appoint, and the council must confirm, a 15-member Racial Equity and Social Justice Advisory Committee that would develop and distribute information about racial equity, promote educational activities and advise the executive and council on the issue.
Status: The council’s cumulative agenda for the year does not record any nominations sent over by the executive for this committee.
2. The executive must adopt a “racial equity and social justice action plan” by Method 2 regulation that would provide for community engagement and a host of requirements and metrics for every department in county government. Under Sec. 2A-15 of the County Code, a Method 2 regulation must be sent to the council for approval or disapproval.
Status: Four different sources inside the council building reported not seeing this regulation yet. The council’s cumulative agenda has no record of it.
3. The executive must “explain how each management initiative or program that would be funded in the Executive’s annual recommended operating and capital budgets promotes racial equity and social justice.” This is a time-consuming requirement as the executive’s operating and capital budgets contain hundreds of items each.
4. The law requires that “racial equity and social justice impact statements” must be drafted to accompany each bill introduced at the county council. The statements are due no less than 21 days after a bill’s introduction and no less than 7 days before the bill’s hearing, although the council president may change the deadlines.
Status: As of this writing, 13 bills were introduced after the racial equity law took effect on March 2. Six of the bills were passed. None of their action packets contained racial equity and social justice impact statements. The bill specifies that the Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO), which is part of the legislative branch, is responsible for drafting the impact statements. To be fair, the part of the bill referring to the impact statements takes effect on August 1, 2020 – five months after the rest of the bill – and $119,170 was added to OLO’s budget to pay for a “Racial Equity Legislative Analyst Position.”
5. The bill creates an “Office of Racial Equity and Social Justice” to perform “equity assessments” on county policies, provide racial equity and social justice training to county employees, develop short and long term goals with metrics to redress disparities, work with departments to create the county’s “racial and social justice action plan” and staff the racial equity advisory committee.
There are a host of other requirements in the law, such as one mandating that every department designate a “racial equity and social justice lead” to work with the racial equity office. Has that been done?
Because of its sweeping nature, the racial equity law goes beyond the bare bones of its structure in the legislation. For example, it mandates that “equity assessments” must be performed “to identify County policies and practices that must be modified to redress disparate outcomes based on race or social justice.”
One program for which that might have been helpful was the county’s grant program to small businesses affected by the COVID-19 crisis. When the county’s grant program went live on April 15 at around 3 PM, the first wave of applicants found out mainly through emails from chambers of commerce or direct notifications from council members. The county’s official blast emails announcing the grants started going out around 4:30 PM and continued into the evening. That means that the best-connected, best-informed businesses got first dibs on the grants. Did that have an impact on the demographic distribution of the grant recipients? We will never know because the grant application did not ask for the applicant’s race. Think about this: in the aftermath of the racial equity law’s passage, the county launched its biggest business assistance program ever – $25 million for more than 6,700 businesses – and the county has no apparent way to measure how much of this money went to minority business owners.
And so at this writing, the only tangible outcome from MoCo’s much-publicized racial equity law is the budgeting of roughly $700,000 in tax dollars and the creation of three full-time positions. If anything else has been accomplished after the law’s passage, there is no evidence of it.
MoCo officials have talked a lot about racial equity over the last two years. The reality is that they have a ton of work to do.
The Montgomery County Council has repeatedly focused on
racial and gender equity. Supported by the entire Council, Councilmember Nancy
Navarro sponsored legislation that requires
a racial equity analysis of each piece of legislation. Councilmember Evan
Glass sponsored successful legislation this year that bans
consideration of salary history in an effort to promote pay equity between
male and female county employees.
While these primarily symbolic acts passed easily, the Council flinched from much more meaningful action when it passed the budget this year.
County unions negotiated some stonking good raises with County Executive Marc Elrich this year. Analyses by Adam Pagnucco understandably focused on the politics of the raises for unions that supported Elrich. It’s certainly true that the unions supported Elrich, but the nature of the way that Montgomery negotiates union contracts propelled these raises forward and also merits attention.
Montgomery negotiated first with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and reached agreement without mediation or arbitration. The Firefighters union (IAFF) went next. These negotiations ended up in arbitration, as required by the contract when the two sides cannot agree. The arbitrator mandated generous raises for IAFF employees, which the county executive was contractually obliged to support during the budget process.
The unions aren’t supposed to talk to each other about these negotiations, but what do you think the chances are that doesn’t happen? As a result, there was no way MCGEO, the county employee union, was going to settle for any less. One imagines that the county executive was ill-positioned to talk them down, knowing the results from the previous arbitration (and knowing that MCGEO also knew even though they theoretically did not).
The County Council understandably viewed these raises as budget busters. The increases are well above growth in our relatively stagnant tax revenues. Few county residents have received extra pay increases to make up for anemic wage growth during the economic crisis. I know I didn’t.
The Council chose to sharply reduce the pay increase projected for MCGEO, the county employee unions, which on top of a COLA and step increase had included an additional 3.5% for a step increase that got deferred during the economic crisis. The police union (FOP) received the same deferred step increase, but the council left it untouched.
While MCGEO members have received no deferred step increases, the other county unions have been much more fortunate. Not just FOP and IAFF employees but also MCEA employees (the teachers’ union) have now received two apiece due the actions of this and past councils.
Unlike the membership of the IAFF or FOP, MCGEO is the only union of the three that is both majority female and majority minority. In cutting salaries for MCGEO, the County Council directly eliminated spending that would have done far more to promote racial and gender equity than the more symbolic legislation sponsored by Navarro and Glass.
From budgetary and policy perspectives, the Council choices made sense. The MCGEO raise had the biggest impact on the budget because they represent far more people than FOP and IAFF. Moreover, police and fire protection are core services. My guess is that most county residents would rather see firefighters and police officers receive pay increases than, say, county liquor store employees represented by MCGEO.
It was the right decision. Indeed, one could easily argue that the Council should have cut more from all of the union pay raises because tax revenues have regularly disappointed with the county seemingly facing budgets shortfalls with the predictability of humidity in August.
MCGEO remains an easier target than the sacred cows of education (MCEA) and first responders (FOP and IAFF). However, along with Department of Liquor Control (DLC) employees, MCGEO also represent people like prison guards, sheriffs, social workers, librarians, and snow plow drivers. Many engage in dangerous and difficult work.
Perhaps county councilmembers should spend less time touting how woke they are in the future. When it came to spending hard cash, the Council blinked and reduced the negotiated salaries of the predominantly female and minority union even as it once again protected pay increases for the other two unions. Reality bites.