By Elizabeth Glidden, Former Ward 8 City Council Member for the City of Minneapolis. Elizabeth Glidden served Council Member for the City of Minneapolis from 2006-17, including as Council Vice President from 2013-17. Elizabeth championed racial and economic justice during her Council tenure, including authoring a $15 municipal minimum wage law, safe and sick time law, and elections reform through ranked choice voting. Prior to her service on the City Council, Elizabeth represented individuals as a workers rights and civil rights lawyer for over ten years. Elizabeth is a 2013 Bush Fellow, focusing her fellowship on race-conscious leadership development for local elected officials.
In December 2017, the Minneapolis City Council approved the creation of the Division of Race and Equity to drive the City’s work to reduce and eliminate racial inequities throughout City government. As chief author, I am proud that race equity work will be a permanent part of our city structure, not subject to the ups and downs of political elections or the personal priorities of those in key city staff roles.
The City of Minneapolis has a long history of supporting racial equity, due to the pressure and partnership of a strong and organized grassroots community. In recent years the Council and Mayor have advanced Minneapolis’ race equity work in many ways, including approving two full-time staff to focus on racial equity work, requiring use of race equity criteria in a 20-year neighborhood park and street infrastructure funding plan, and setting aggressive goals for supplier diversity and workforce inclusion.
Despite these achievements, and a multitude of Council resolutions and motions directing staff action, race equity organizational change work in Minneapolis has been slow and race equity goals have not been implemented and enforced consistently across departments. As well, Minneapolis’ flat organizational structure, which gives each department head equal authority, does not easily support city-wide business requirements around race equity.
With the guidance of community partners and city staff committed to race equity work, I introduced an ordinance establishing a permanent Race and Equity Division. Community advisors agreed that an ordinance provided the best opportunity for clarity and accountability of all city staff under Minneapolis’ existing city structure, and would also ensure the Division of Race and Equity was a permanent part of our city structure, requiring a majority vote of the City Council to change.
The Division of Race and Equity ordinance, modeled in part on an Oakland, California ordinance, requires departments to create race equity action plans, use race equity in all business practices, and work with community to set goals and accomplish the work. Perhaps most critical, the ordinance also establishes a mechanism for accountability, requiring reports on goals and results at least annually to the City Council in a public meeting.
After years of building a foundation, community partners, city staff, and Council Members agreed that the Division of Race and Equity ordinance was the logical next step in elevating Minneapolis’ work to confront institutional racism. Moving from conversation and training to action and accountability is critical if we are serious about the results we want to see: centering race, dismantling institutional racism, and establishing trust in government for all in our communities.