City officials vote to hire consultant for diversity, equity and inclusion plan

Monday, September 9, 2019 - 4:59pm

Ann Arbor City Council approved a two-year contract with SDS Global Enterprises Inc. at a meeting Tuesday.

Ann Arbor City Council approved a two-year contract with SDS Global Enterprises Inc. at a meeting Tuesday. Buy this photo
File Photo/Daily

Ann Arbor City Council voted 10-1 Tuesday to approve a two-year contract with SDS Global Enterprises Inc. to provide diversity, equity and inclusion consulting. Councilmember Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, was opposed. 

SDS Global Enterprises Inc. was deemed to be the most qualified in assisting the development of the city’s diversity, equity and inclusion plan and complies with the requirements of the city’s non-discrimination and living wage ordinances.

SDS Global Enterprises Inc. is run by Dr. Shirley Davis, a leadership counselor and experienced diversity and inclusion officer. According to SDS’ website, it is a “woman and minority-owned C-Corporation that provides strategic development solutions that enable organizational leaders to build high performing and inclusive cultures that thrive in a competitive and changing environment.” 

Sharie Sell is the city of Ann Arbor’s diversity, equity and inclusion officer. She said the eventual diversity, equity and inclusion plan will provide guidance and ensure the city facilities are inclusive. 

“The consultant will assist the City by advising on the best way to set up a sustainable, comprehensive Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan that is organizationally transformative,” Sell wrote to The Daily in an email interview. “One that addresses racial, gender, identity, age, and economic inequities and disparities in the delivery of services.”

For the first year of services, the consulting agency is expected to review the city’s employee demographic data. They will also conduct cultural assessments, focus groups, one-on-one stakeholder interviews and a staff survey. The survey will attempt to identify trends and deficiencies in hiring practices. 

The second year plan includes helping the city develop a long term plan for diversity, equity and inclusion, while holding strategic planning sessions with key stakeholders.

One of the agency’s tasks will be developing and executing a training and education strategy to increase awareness, knowledge and skills for 700-plus city staffers, councilmembers and members of city boards and commissions as it pertains to diversity, equity and inclusion.

The $161,000 budget has created a stir among community members who think the expenditure is too much. Hayner explained he opposed the proposal because of the cost.

“I do not think the benefits to be derived from the service are worth the rate charged. We have many needs as a city and $450/hour consulting fees for undefined HR problems is not one of them,” Hayner wrote to The Daily. 

Hayner said he has received requests from people seeking legal aid around housing issues, specifically from students and seniors.

“That’s a real need in or community and it involves equity and diversity,” Hayner wrote. “There have not been to my knowledge any requests from staff for this (DEI) training, this is simply a way to fulfill our promises to the One Community Initiative.” 

LSA junior Bridget Corwin is spearheading DEI efforts for the University of Michigan organization WeListen. Corwin said that she would be willing to pay for funding that helps progress DEI objectives in her organizations and her government. 

“It’s everyone’s responsibility to create a culture that values diversity and inclusion,” Corwin said.“The reality is that our culture does not always value these things, leading to systemic issues like racism, classism, ableism, etc. which unjustly disenfranchises so many people. I would be willing to pay a tax that could help move a city, state, or country in a positive cultural direction through DEI initiatives.”