Brookhaven’s social justice commission on Nov. 18 shared the final recommendations it plans to make to the city council. 

The city established the Social Justice, Race, and Equity Commission (SJREC) in September of 2020 to address issues of diversity and social justice in the city. At a Dec. 14 City Council meeting, the commission will present its findings to the council and offer up recommendations on how the city can improve on matters of equity. 

The commission is divided into four subcommittees designed to review the city’s mission statement and vision; hiring and retention practices; procurement processes; and police department accountability in regard to use of force. 

Most of the commission’s recommendations related to ensuring that city staff have enough training related to equity; city systems and policies undergo periodic review related to equity; and the city considers external audits of certain policies.

Here is a rundown of all of the commission’s recommendations:

Cross-Cutting Recommendations

SJREC Chair Tywana Minor gave what the commission calls “cross-cutting recommendations,” which are recommendations that concern all of the subcommittees. 

“These are recommendations to increase equity that are inclusive of, or foundational to, the issue-specific recommendations we are advancing for the four priority areas,” Minor said. 

The first recommendation would establish a “citizen-led group” that would offer the city training and continuous dialogue about racial equity and inclusion and monitor how Brookhaven’s policies regarding equity are implemented. 

The second recommendation would “embed racial equity principles and practices in all Brookhaven departments and operations.” The third recommendation establishes a commitment to include more of Brookhaven’s diverse population, particularly Hispanic and immigrant communities, in the city’s planning processes, commissions, and other efforts. 

The fourth recommendation would be for the city to perform a “community equity assessment” to try and understand Brookhaven residents’ perceptions of racial equity. The fifth recommendation would be to assess the city’s technology to make sure it has the ability to accurately capture equity data. 

Hiring and Retention 

William Naglich, co-chair of the hiring and retention subcommittee, presented three recommendations to the commission.

The first recommendation would be to establish consistent written and in-person exit interviews with all city employees who leave their jobs. 

“We think that’s very important to capture data, learn about potential issues or areas of concern so those can be dealt with proactively and improve the situation for the staff overall,” Naglich said. 

The second recommendation would be for the city to develop equitable practices related to recruitment, hiring, and training. Naglich said this recommendation came from looking at best hiring practices in surrounding cities, and noticing where Brookhaven was lacking, particularly in standardized questions in interviews, onboarding processes, and retention of employees. 

The third recommendation is to develop policies and upgrade the technology necessary to capture data relevant to hiring and retention. According to Naglich’s presentation, the subcommittee believes the city is not using its Human Resources software to its full capabilities.

“Proper use of the HR software that’s out there, it will better allow the city to see trends, potential issues, and address those proactively instead of reactively,” Naglich said. 

Mission and Vision 

Aixa Pascual and Tiffany Russell, co-chairs of the mission and vision subcommittee, presented two recommendations to the commission. 

The city’s current vision statement reads as follows: “Brookhaven will be nationally recognized as a beautiful community where multiple generations can live in safety, flourish in business and succeed in a historic, sustainable environment with exceptional education and transportation options.”

The city’s current mission statement reads as follows: “In support of the Brookhaven vision the City government shall: encourage and maintain a beautiful community, meet public safety needs, develop an environment for business success, promote sustainable projects and activities, identify and preserve historic and neighborhood resources, facilitate educational opportunities, and improve transportation conditions, connectivity, and options while listening to and communicating with the public.”

“We basically saw as the charge of our subcommittee to look at the mission and vision statement through an equity lens, and to make recommendations to the City Council to ensure that the city at its very core stands for equity, diversity, inclusiveness, and social justice,” Pascual said. 

The first recommendation would be for the city to hold an open process to rewrite the city’s mission statement, making sure to engage community stakeholders such as city staff, residents, business owners, and nonprofits. 

“We really believe that the mission and vision statement does not represent the city that we have today,” Pascual said. “It doesn’t represent the values of the communities or the aspirations of the city.” 

The second recommendation would be for the city to review its charter every five years in terms of equity.

“Without explicit guidance, the rules and procedures mandated by charters can perpetuate bias and inequities in how the city conducts itself,” Russell said. “We thought regular review and careful review and updates of the charter with an equity lens can help to uncover and address those biases.” 

Policing and Continuum Use of Force

Monique Hudson and Shahrukh Arif, co-chairs of the policing subcommittee, presented four recommendations to the commission. The first recommendation is for the police department to create a way to uniformly capture race and ethnicity data. At a previous policing subcommittee meeting, commissioners discussed issues they found with how the police department reports this data, particularly when it comes to the separation of race and ethnicity categories. 

“We will not know what inequities exist and why they exist until we have data we can rely on,” Hudson said. 

The second recommendation would be to implement cultural competency training and programs for the Brookhaven Police Department so that officers learn how to best interact with people in cultures outside of their own. This recommendation would also include an equity audit from an outside organization.

“While we’re all well-intended, while we’re all very committed to the work of the commission, there are people out there that do this work,” Hudson said. “So we’ve asked that Brookhaven look at that and retain the people who are able to do those things to continue this work.” 

This recommendation could also include hiring an equity officer, Hudson said. 

The third recommendation would be to expand the use of mental health professionals to assist Brookhaven police. In October of 2020, the department began employing mental health professionals during business hours to assist with certain situations that might be better solved with access to medical care. This recommendation would increase the availability of mental professionals to include weekends and overnight calls as well. 

The fourth recommendation includes conducting an annual survey of Brookhaven’s population regarding perceptions of police, offering regular community policing training for officers, and contracting an external auditor to review police complaint data. The recommendation also includes asking the department to focus more time on creating and fostering relationships with religious organizations, civic organizations, and social welfare groups.

Hudson said the subcommittee also recommended presenting these suggestions under the umbrella of “police accountability and legitimacy” instead of “use of force.”

“Quite frankly, BPD has had very little use of force opportunities, so we weren’t able to really analyze that data,” Hudson said. 

Procurement and Contracting 

The procurement and contracting subcommittee had four recommendations for the commission to review.

The subcommittee found that of 53 contracts awarded 2020, only 7.5% were with vendors who identified as minority-owned. The first recommendation would ensure that any request for proposals that the city sends out are written as simply as possible. The second recommendation would be to implement a more easily accessible and understandable contracting process.

The third recommendation would be for the city to hold more frequent reviews of the procurement and contracting process. Subcommittee member Zaki Anwer said that in a survey sent out to vendors in the city, respondents responded with varying levels of satisfaction about the city’s processes. Many respondents said they were unable to rate their satisfaction level with any clarity.

“Although this survey was difficult to assess due to lack of responses … it made the need for a more robust assessment tool for the procurement process all the more evident,” Anwer said. 

The fourth recommendation would be for the city to commit to awarding 33.3% of all funds spent on procurement and contracting to businesses that identify as minority-owned, with the aim to increase this percentage by at least 5% per year for each subsequent year. 

“Hopefully this recommendation provides tangible targets and benchmarks that the city can aim for and use to measure its success,” Anwer said.

The commission is expected to present these recommendations to the City Council at its Dec. 14 meeting. The entire SJREC meeting can be viewed on the city’s Facebook page.

Sammie Purcell

Sammie Purcell is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers.