Mayor gives city staff OK to fill race and social justice coordinator position

Mayor Nicola Smith

After months of arguments and multiple votes to delay, Lynnwood Mayor Nicola Smith informed the Lynnwood City Council earlier this month she will be using her executive authority to fill the much-contested race and social justice coordinator position.

In a memo dated April 2, Smith said she will authorize her staff to begin the recruitment process to fill the job. The position will work with the mayor’s office to provide outreach to communities of color — and other underrepresented communities — to ensure all have equal access to city programs and services.

“As the administrator and CEO of the City of Lynnwood, I am directing my staff to begin the recruitment process to fill the race and social justice coordinator position,” she said in the memo. “Council, I do not need your approval per se, but I am asking for your support of this position and this important work. This work should not divide us, it is intended to make us better, to improve outcomes for everyone.”

The position was included in the city’s 2021-22 biennium budget adopted last November. Since then, the council has voted twice to delay filling it — first pending more information from staff and again until the job description could be identified within the city’s budgeting for outcomes model and pending the results of a planned community equity survey. According to Smith, these delays are just another barrier the council may have created for these communities. 

“I fear that what has been transpiring over the past several months debating about this position, is unfortunately a very clear example of institutional racism,” she said. “We are creating and perpetuating unnecessary barriers, which are stopping progress and sending a very negative message to our BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) and our community members. I have heard from several people that they are tired. They are tired of not being believed that they face barriers and bias, they are tired of the finish line always moving, they are tired of words that don’t match actions.”

Smith also pointed out that the position has been supported by members from the city’s diversity team, representatives from the city’s own Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Commission, other leadership staff and several community members. 

“I have heard enough from the community and from our city staff,” she said. “Now is the time to hire an employee who will be dedicated to taking what has been accomplished already, collaborate with our community and staff members, and help move us forward – together – to work towards becoming the community that we say we are – a welcoming and safe community where all are welcome.”

In her memo, Smith also outlined the outcomes for the performance measure for the coordinator position, including increasing training opportunities for city employees related to race, equity and undoing structural racism; formalizing the city’s Racial Equity Action Plan over the next three years; participating/consulting on every major project or initiative of the city to ensure a racial equity lens is applied; and connecting weekly with community leaders from underserved and underrepresented communities to build up a network of trusted messengers.

The coordinator will also work with BDS Planning & Urban Design. The city has contracted with the Seattle-based consulting firm to conduct the community equity survey that aims to establish and build connections with historically “hard to reach” communities; leverage information and relationships; and inform Lynnwood policy and actions centering racial and social equity.

“I truly believe that what I have heard from individual councilmembers regarding this work, is not in conflict with moving forward with hiring this position,” the mayor said. “I have heard from council that ‘the city should be doing more’, ‘that we need to focus on outreach’, that you ‘want this position to be successful’, and that we ‘don’t want this position to be the only one working towards these outcomes. I wholeheartedly agree with all those sentiments.”

Smith also pointed out that the position is neither the end, nor the beginning, of staff’s work toward creating a more equitable city and that the coordinator would be building upon the work already completed.

“I stand in solidarity with our BIPOC city employees and community members and their allies, and I want Lynnwood to truly be a place where all are welcome, all are valued, and all belong,” she said.

–By Cody Sexton

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