Tuesday, October 7, 2008

SEWRPC's Latest Affirmative Action Report Doesn't Cut It

The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission's hot-off-the-press 2008-2009 Affirmative Action plan is a highly political document, thus making it another unsatisfying and unsuccessful report on very important issues that SEWRPC has yet to assertively confront.

Here is a link to the report.

It pulled back the language repeated in earlier reports that suggested SEWRPC's Waukesha County headquarters' office location - - also not on a bus line - - posed barriers to commuting staff workers from heavily-minority population centers in the region.

The new Affirmative Action report calls those notions in the agency-written plans "hypothesized," and not proven by "evidence." (see pps. 10-11).

Data indicate many minority and low-income people living in the SEWRPC seven- county region, and particularly in Milwaukee, do not have access to automobiles.

In the old days, we'd call this policy-making by liquid white-out. Now, apparently, you just push down the "delete" key and problems vanish.

The report did pledge increased efforts to recruit minority workers. and other initiatives.

SEWRPC also says in the report that census data suggests that there are some socio-economic and geographical statistical measures that help explain the relatively low numbers of non-white employees at the agency - - for 2008-'09, one of eight clerical workers, six of 21 so-called technical staffers, and in the higher-paid and most-prestigious planning and science-based positions, three of 49.

That's an improvement in the important professional category to about 6% from 2% in years past, but in America, in 2008, after a 50-year agency history - - let's be honest.

It's gawd-awful.

Now when I say it's a political report, I do not mean partisan.

I mean political from a public relations and inter-agency perspective, as the agency is looking to put a better face on what has been an affirmative action record so passive that SEWRPC was hit with two recent civil rights complaints by Milwaukee-area community organizations.

Additionally, SEWRPC knows it could get raked over the coals at important meetings later this month where its affirmative action record and relationships with minority communities will be tested and scrutinized - - including a meeting at which federal regulators will take testimony about SEWRPC's performance in a once-every-four-years review.

The federal review could cost SEWRPC some funding that makes up a significant portion of the 64% of its budget from sources other than property taxes from its seven contributing counties.

The civil rights complaints also seek federal remedies due to SEWRPC hiring and program actions that the complainants allege as discriminatory - - including possible withdrawal of federal dollars.

The 2004 federal review produced hours of angry speakers, and an agreement by SEWRPC to create an Environmental Justice Task Force to provide substantive guidance for its work with minority and low-income communities.

There is a meeting of the task force also set for later this month, and it will be held in Waukesha, as task force meetings rotate around the region.

The agency's relationship with the task force is off to a tentative start, at best, as it had its only key recommendation to date - - a request to participate in what became the agency's unadvertised, fait accompli hiring of a new Executive Director - - ignored by SEWRPC senior managers.

Even Adelene Greene, the EJFT chair and a SEWRPC commissioner, called the closed selection of Deputy director Ken Yunker as SEWRPC Executive Director-designee effective in January, 2009 "a missed opportunity."

So SEWRPC has considerable programmatic and PR work to do to convince constituencies, regulators and everyday citizens that it can do its work fairly.

The latest Affirmative Action report has a mite more content, but not enough for SEWRPC to turn around decades of inaction.

Not enough of that "evidence," if you get my drift.

I'm on record suggesting that Milwaukee County taxpayers would get a better shake and value for its $850,000 annual contribution to SEWRPC if a separate agency were established to carry out planning with an urban focus.

For example, SEWRPC has not written a housing study for the region since 1975, and despite multiple suggestions that such a study was about to get started, there is only a confidential housing study design circulating at SEWRPC offices, and no funding or advisory committee or study schedule announced.

SEWRPC says in its new Affirmative Action report that it has a Milwaukee County office that is available, presumably for more focused urban planning, or perhaps for SEWRPC staffers with Milwaukee addresses or projects to handle..

It doesn't cite a location for this office (p. 11), but if this is a reference to an office SEWRPC opened quietly under questionable circumstances at the County Research Park in the City of Wauwatosa, and not in the City of Milwaukee, it's no wonder that SEWRPC isn't touting the address of what it calls a "satellite office."

Satellite office? Call it the kids table when the adults are in the dining room at Thanksgiving dinner.

And there in a nutshell is SEWRPC's distant, parsed, dismissive relationship with the largest municipality, and the largest minority and low-income communities in its region: SEWRPC's got an entire, multi-million dollar office building in upper-income, nearly all-white Pewaukee that it bought from one of its favored consultants, and maintains an all-but-invisible "satellite office" miles from Milwaukee's downtown or central city.

Without a clue to the ironies involved, SEWRPC does note that the satellite office is on a bus line.

All together now: "Yippee!"

1 comment:

Jim Bouman said...
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