Milwaukee County leaders introduce ordinance to advance racial equity and improve public health
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, with the Milwaukee County Supervisors, and the Office on African American Affairs (OAAA), introduced an ordinance that commits Milwaukee County to advancing racial equity and eliminating health disparities.
The ordinance moves forward Milwaukee County’s vision that by achieving racial equity, Milwaukee is the healthiest county in Wisconsin. Milwaukee County government acknowledges that institutional racism exists across layers of government in the United States and is taking steps to implement change.
“We have a moral imperative as community leaders to address racial equity head on,” said County Executive Chris Abele. “Thank you to the Board of Supervisors for working together to pursue our vision and taking bold steps to ensure every resident in every community across Milwaukee County will have what they need to thrive.”
In May 2019, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, with County Supervisor Marcelia Nicholson, County Supervisor Supreme Moore Omokunde and County Supervisor Deanna Alexander, sponsored a first-of-its-kind resolution declaring racism a public health crisis.
“This ordinance is not only an acknowledgement of systemic racism in Milwaukee County, it is a commitment to equity and accountability for all those who have been disparately impacted for generations,” said Supervisor Marcelia Nicholson, 5th District. “I am proud to be part of a solution that rights the wrongs of the past and brings this chapter of Milwaukee County’s history to a close.”
If passed, the ordinance commits Milwaukee County government to identifying and addressing policies, practices and power structures that, whether intentionally or unintentionally, work in favor of white people and create barriers for black and brown people. The ordinance will ensure racial equity is a top priority of Milwaukee County government and remains larger than any one government leader.
“Today we are proud to finally and fully layout a solution to the public health crisis racism has on our community,” said Supervisor Supreme Moore Omokunde, 10th District. “With this bold legislation, we can continue dismantling the impacts racism has had on our community and move forward to building a stronger Milwaukee County.”
Milwaukee County will initially focus on five areas to transform the services it provides and create a system that works for all residents. Milwaukee County will:
- Build a more diverse and inclusive workforce in which employees reflect the diversity of the community at all levels and where differences are welcomed and valued.
- Ensure a diverse array of Milwaukee County employees at all levels are involved in designing equitable programs and services that meet the needs of the community.
- Design Milwaukee County services to meet residents needs, rather than asking residents to fit their needs into existing Milwaukee County services.
- Track and analyze data to better understand the impact of County services and find solutions accordingly.
- Generate new sources of revenue and implement additional efficiencies to address the structural deficit.
“Improving our community takes vision, commitment, dedication and hard work, and it takes a strong partnership between the people elected to serve our residents, business community and residents,” said Milwaukee County Board Supervisor Felesia A. Martin, 7th District. “This ordinance is a concerted, coordinated strategy to ensure every neighborhood in Milwaukee County is a great place to live, work and raise a family. All of us working together we can achieve being the healthiest county in Wisconsin for everyone.”
There are significant health disparities for Milwaukee County residents along racial lines, which impacts community health overall. The 2019 County Health Rankings show Milwaukee County is ranked 71 out of 72 counties for health in the state of Wisconsin.
“We will solve this public health crisis by reaching through the social and economic barriers that created it,” said Supervisor Jason Haas, 14th District. “Our work shall continue until we have achieved equity across Milwaukee County.”
According to 2019 data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), a white person in Milwaukee County lives, on average, nearly 14 years longer than a black person. DHS data also shows the infant mortality rate is nearly three times higher for black infants than white infants, at 14.2 and 4.8 deaths per 1,000 births. The ordinance addresses racism as a public health crisis and builds on the County’s efforts to ensure all our residents have access to a community in which they can thrive.
“Leaders across Milwaukee County have been taking steps toward creating stronger, more equitable tools and resources for the residents they serve,” said Nicole Brookshire, Director of the Office on African American Affairs. “This ordinance puts forth a roadmap for us to address racial equity and take the steps we need to move towards a more equitable Milwaukee.”
Milwaukee County leaders have already been working hard to implement measures to address racial equity issues. The Milwaukee County Audit Services Division recently studied employee diversity, and the data will be used to inform planning efforts going forward. Thousands of Milwaukee County employees have been trained in racial equity, and the County will continue to offer trainings to support racial equity work at every employee level. The trainings and programs offered are based on national best practices from the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE).
In this ordinance, Milwaukee County commits to developing and using a racial equity tool to evaluate the impact of budget decisions on black and brown communities. The racial equity tool was launched as a pilot to shape the 2020 budget, and led to investments in transit, new health and human services initiatives and needed improvements to Milwaukee County Parks.
The ordinance was introduced by Milwaukee County Supervisors Marcelia Nicholson, Felesia A. Martin, Jason Haas, Supreme Moore Omokunde, Willie Johnson Jr. and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. The Milwaukee County Board will consider this ordinance in Spring 2020.