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County board approves formation of diversity, inclusion office

By Kate Carlson/The Holland Sentinel • Feb 27, 2019 at 8:10 PM

WEST OLIVE — The Ottawa County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office funding plan at its Tuesday meeting.

This will be a new office at the county and will include hiring a director and senior secretary. Funding for the positions’ salaries, benefits and other expenses tied to the jobs will be paid for by the county, foundations and private donors.

According to the funding plan approved by commissioners, which accounts for fiscal years 2019-24, the county will contribute 57 percent of the cost at $631,960. Another 24 percent of the cost for the new office through fiscal year 2024 is planned to be funded with a requested $259,507 from foundations. The remaining 19 percent, or $209,507, is planned to come from other funding sources like the private sector.

So far, the county has received $100,730 toward the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office.

“Now, more than ever, it’s important to remember that diversity and inclusion brings people together rather than pulls them apart,” said Reyna Masko, chairwoman of the Ottawa County Cultural Intelligence Committee. “It should be self-evident by now that diverse people bring diverse ideas and viewpoints to the table, which promote positive change and innovation, more opportunities for all people, and better access to talent that will drive future success.”

The new department will operate by first focusing on creating implicit bias templates and racial equity plans for the county’s internal and external services. The plan is to partner with local governments to continue this work to eliminate implicit bias in policies, procedures and practices.

During a public comment period during the county board meeting, Christopher Banks said he has lived in Holland for 27 years and thanked the commissioners for “including us.”

“I didn’t feel a part of this community when I initially moved here,” Banks said. “It was a culture shock.”

Banks said he is glad to see Ottawa County is showing itself as a place that is really inclusive.

“We’re definitely moving in the direction we need to,” he said.

A woman urged county officials to remember that diversity is more than just race, but should also include identities such as gender expression, sexuality, religion and people with different abilities.

The new executive director of the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, Adnoris “Bo” Torres, said the new office is “very needed.”

Commissioners also spoke about the importance of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office.

“This is a great opportunity for us to see what our community is, and hopefully improve on that,” District 1 Commissioner Frank Garcia said.

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