Racial equity debate


By Brad Flory
County correspondent

The divisive issue of racial fairness is on the agenda again for the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.

Commissioners are scheduled to vote March 16 on a one-page “policy statement” titled “Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Belonging.”

The statement is not a formal resolution and it contains no rules or requirements, but it represents a new effort to establish common ground among commissioners who have struggled for months to find a unified stance on racial equity.

“My expectation would be that we will have a robust discussion,” said County Administrator Michael Overton when he introduced the policy statement at a March 2 study session.

Commissioners told Overton to develop a county-level position on racial equity in June, when the nation was in turmoil over that issue.


The assignment was handed down during one of the most emotionally charged Board of Commissioners meetings in decades. At that meeting, seven white commissioners rejected a call by two African-American commissioners to declare racism a public health crisis in Jackson County.

Nine months later, Overton has presented his proposed policy statement to commissioners. He said the document is modeled after a measure adopted by The Enterprise Group of Jackson.

“Jackson County acknowledges the need to cultivate a workplace that is a welcoming environment for all persons,” says the policy statement.

“We will proactively bring to light instances of unconscious bias in employment practices and provide equitable opportunities for employees to engage in professional development.”

The statement lists five “commitments” to advance diversity and equity in the county workplace: building trust; providing education and development; collaboration; focusing on equity; and accountability.

“We believe these commitments to be essential to building more diverse and equitable workplaces and a community where we all belong. We all have a role to play!” the statement concludes.

If the policy statement is adopted, it will not create quotas, Overton told commissioners.

“We don’t see equity as saying we are going to follow, hard and fast, some rule that says we have to hire so many people of this color or that color or this faith or that faith,” Overton said.

Meanwhile, a specially appointed committee continues to develop a new anti-discrimination policy for county government. County leaders see no conflict or redundancy in addressing the policy statement before the committee finishes its work.


“Our policy statement is broad and sweeping, and it sets the tone for the county,” Overton said. “The anti-discrimination policy would be something that is much more specific. It should be perfectly compatible.”

Commissioner Darius Williams, a member of the Anti-Discrimination Committee, said the policy statement and the forthcoming anti-discrimination policy are related but different.

“I think these two pieces, together, would create a strong stance,” Williams said.

Commissioner Tony Bair argued that the policy statement needs to be revised to include definitions of the words it uses “so we all know what we are talking about.” Commissioner Ray Snell, who took office in January, said he needs to know more before he will vote to approve the policy statement.

Commissioner Daniel Mahoney, who supported the policy statement, said its biggest flaw is a failure to go far enough.

“I don’t think it has enough teeth,” Mahoney said. “However, I am willing to compromise and settle for starting somewhere, because we have been nowhere on this subject.”

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