Investigators: How important is diversity to the City of Spokane?
SPOKANE, Wash. – When the City of Spokane went looking for a new police chief they settled on a group of finalists – all of whom were males and all of whom were white.
Yet the City has said it has a goal to expand diversity in its leaders. The City is getting ready to start searching for a new fire chief after former chief Bobby Williams retired in January.
After the lengthy, and at times confusing, selection process to find a new police chief – many of you wanted to know if there will be more of an emphasis on minority candidates for future leaders.
There is certainly an effort underway to make sure that city government looks like the community that we serve. Brian Coddington is, in many ways, the voice of Spokane.
As the communications director, he speaks directly for the mayor on any number of issues. He also represents a much smaller group – city employees of different ethnic backgrounds.
According to U.S. Census data, the city of Spokane is 82 percent white. However, the makeup of city government is even less diverse than that.
Of the 89 people on the list, 35 are women. Only four listed their ethnic group as something other than white – Coddington is one of them.
“It’s why we’re looking to improve the process,” Coddington said. “You can always be better, and that’s what the goal is, to be better.”
When we asked the City for a list of administrative positions we got data that shows 89 current employees – including the Mayor’s cabinet and department heads hand selected by the mayor as well as elected city council members – and 97 percent of them are white.
Coddington said that was less than ideal when we asked if he thought that was a problem.
It is an issue that came front and center in 2016 during a search for a new police chief.
There were many comments made to KREM 2 News that it was three white men who became the final candidates. We asked if there was any discussion on their end that maybe that was not representative, or that it did not represent the diversity they may have wanted.
“There was a concentrated effort from the beginning to make sure we were seeking the most diverse candidate pool possible,” Coddington said.
“The pool of candidates we ended up getting was not as diverse as we had hoped.”
Coddington said the city is actively trying to make changes. He said it starts by attracting diverse candidates to apply.
So how do they make sure they are reaching out to different backgrounds? What is the recruiting process?
“There’s a number of things that are done, and we’re adding some things that we haven’t done in the past,” Coddington said. “So we’re casting a wider net. We have an online tool that allows us now to seek applicants throughout the country.”
Coddington said they are seeking and targeting organizations that have a representative of more diverse candidates.
“We’re more actively pursuing job fairs and other areas where it’s not just an informal or cold process,” he said.
So how does that apply to filling the next big leadership position in the city – the new fire chief?
“That process is still being developed,” he said, “but there is a very good eye toward diversity, and being able to attract candidates of diversity.”
Just like their search for a police chief, the City said they are using a recruiting firm that specializes in finding candidates with experience in public safety. Coddington said the job posting for a new fire chief has not been finalized yet, but it will be widely circulated, in hopes of attracting a more diverse pool of possibilities.
“There’s certainly an effort underway to make sure that city government looks like the community that we serve. So, within that context, that is the goal.”
Coddington said the mayor has really had an emphasis on new ideas and perspectives.
“That includes diversity, in terms of ethnic background, but also diversity in terms of mindset and ideas,” he said.
“The belief is that you get enough different opinions, you get a better outcome.”