On July 29, 2017 the Herald-Sun posted an article by Allison De Marco titled – Another Aspect of Equity: Our Town and County Advisory Boards.
In this article, Allison highlights the importance of advisory boards and the invaluable contributions these volunteers make towards the promotion of public awareness of contemporary issues facing Orange County and the achievement of goals and priorities of the Orange County Board of Commissioners. Allison also highlights the reality that advisory boards are not often representative of the demographic makeup of the community and discusses the importance of inclusive advisory boards. The important reasons include:
- More inclusive boards bring wider perspectives that are more representative of the entirety of our community.
- Research shows that serving on such boards builds the social capital of members as they interact with their colleagues, elected officials, and town and county staff. These interactions, along with the knowledge and experience gained through this service, can lead to wider employment prospects that can help to reduce the racial wealth gap.
- Advisory board service is often a stepping stone to elected office. All of Carrboro’s Board of Aldermen (6 of 6) and the Orange County commissioners (7 of 7), 78% (7 of 9) of the Chapel Hill Town Council, and at least 67% (4 of 6) of the Hillsborough Town Board have previous advisory board service.
- Research also shows that when girls and children of color see people that look like themselves in positions of power they are more likely to have similar aspirations.
In 2017, Town and county staff provided public data on the demographic make-up of the gender, race/ethnicity of County Advisory Boards. That information was placed along-side census data from the American Community Survey estimates from 2011-2015 to compare the overall population to local advisory board membership.
Gender and Race/Ethnicity of Town and County Advisory Boards and the Overall Population, April 2017
Note. One OC board member (0.4%) and one Carrboro board member (0.9%) identify as gender-nonconforming (GNC). Numbers in parenthesis do not add up to total slots due to a small amount of missing data.
a Population-level demographic characteristics are from the 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-year estimates.
b The analysis includes 28 advisory boards in Orange County, 15 in Carrboro, 20 in Chapel Hill, and 8 in Hillsborough.
c Orange County does not collect age on advisory board applications; 18.8% of board members reported being retired.
d Orange County did not provide data on Asian race.
Although the Orange County appointment process states their intent to endeavor toward appointing members who represent the ethnic, cultural, demographic and geographic diversity of the community, data shows that all four jurisdictions have underrepresentation in either race/ethnicity or gender.
“Orange County has a 2.2% Latinx representation compared to 8.3% in the population. Carrboro’s boards are at 2.8% versus 13.8% of the population, Chapel Hill’s are 0.6% (1 member) versus 6%, and Hillsborough has no Latinx members compared to 4.2% town-wide. Hillsborough’s boards are also underrepresented by black residents: just 5.3% (3 members) compared to 36.1% of the overall population. The other municipalities have roughly proportionate representation among black residents. Carrboro (3.7% versus 10.1%) and Chapel Hill (4.8% versus 12.8%) have underrepresentation among Asian residents. In terms of gender, Carrboro and Chapel Hill both have a disproportionate amount of board members who identify as male (54.9% versus 48.1% and 54.7% versus 46.5%, respectively).”
Allison provided practical considerations to work towards making advisory boards more representative of the communities they serve. Some considerations included outreach and accessibility for a more diverse membership.
In the fall of 2018, the Town of Chapel Hilllaunched it’s first-ever Peoples Academy. The objectives of the Peoples Academy are to diversify boards & commissions; communicate about Town services and operations; engage people not already participating or communicating with the Town; seek community input; and teach community leadership skills.
The Peoples Academy targeted community members not historically represented on the Town’s boards and commissions. Outreach efforts focused on reaching racial and ethnic minorities; immigrants, refugees, and others with limited English proficiency; parents of school-aged children; teens and college students; and those served by affordable or public housing. The Town lowered barriers to participation by providing food and childcare; offering sessions at different times; providing rides and transit information; and translating marketing and application materials into Spanish, Karen, and Burmese.
Forty of 104 applicants were from communities of color, and 22 indicated they were served by public housing or another community housing partner. The inaugural Peoples Academy graduated 42 community members, 70% of whom said they are now considering serving on a board or commission. All 42 graduates said in their post-program survey that they felt very well or well informed about town events and news.
In its board applications the Town now collects gender and race/ethnicity. Age continues to be collected in a range, topping out at 55+.
In Carrboro, The Board of Aldermen adopted changes to their Recruitment and Appointment Policy in the following ways:
- Members are appointed to staggering three-year terms on all advisory boards that expire annually in February. The Carrboro Tourism Development Authority members are appointed to one-year terms that expire annually in January.
- Members are limited to two full terms. After completing two full terms, a member must take off one yearbefore applying for re-appointment to the advisory board. However, a board member may apply to serveon another advisory board if they desire. The Board of Aldermen may make exceptions to this rule underthe following circumstances:
- To retain diversity on an advisory board;
- A lack of applicants.
In addition, the Town is tracking date of birth, race, gender, occupation for each commission now and that information is taken to the Board of Aldermen to use as information when making advisory board appointments. The newly created Affordable Housing Commission was formed with the new guidelines and is over 70% people of color.
Representation of black residents on Orange County’s advisory boards has increased slightly from ~10% to 12%, while white representation decreased from ~82% to 75%.
The Town of Chapel Hillis currently planning its second Peoples Academy, which will launch in October 2019. They are working to expand efforts to reach more Latinx residents and use additional approaches to reach diverse residents. One approach planned for this year is to work with Peoples Academy graduates (including several from the Burmese community) and community organizations (e.g., El Centro Hispano, Refugee Community Partnership) to identify bilingual residents willing to serve as Peoples Academy ambassadors. Ambassadors would help to champion the program through direct outreach and serve as a liaison between applicants and Town staff.
*TheTown of Carrboro became a member of the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) and will be reviewing all procedures with a racial equality lens.
*Both Orange County and the Orange County Health Department have also become GARE members.
*The Town of Hillsborough did not provide updates.