By RENÉE BASKERVILLE
Special to Montclair Local

As the immediate past Fourth Ward Montclair Township councilwoman, founder of the Montclair Fourth Ward Collaborative, an active and highly engaged resident who drove the desegregation of the Montclair public safety forces, and an ardent champion of federal, New Jersey and Montclair municipal laws to ban discrimination and protect the equality and dignity of all persons who desire to do business with the township or who are doing business with the township, those who are municipal employees or desirous of becoming municipal employees, and those who are in our township for any reason, I am delighted that our Township Council is poised to make revisions to our Business Set-Aside Program.

Some of the comments in the May 25 MontclairLocal.news article “Diversity hiring expansion to include veteran- and LGBTQ-owned businesses postponed,” and the recommendation that the changes be made post haste, give me pause. There are five reasons why. 

1) In the years since the passage of Montclair’s 1988 Business Set-Aside Program, formal findings promptiong the establishment of Montclair Civil Rights Commission state that “prejudice and discrimination against any individual or group because of race, creed, color, national origin, religion ancestry, age, sex, affectional or sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, marital status, liability for service in the Armed Forces of the United States or nationality is inimical to democracy, the cornerstone of our American tradition and menaces peace and public welfare.”  This language  could certainly be included in a diversity, equity and inclusion program, known as a DEI program, but it cannot be a substitute for the Business Set-Aside Program or an Affirmative Action program.

2) DEI programs are today’s best practices in all workforces. But Affirmative Action programs or Business Set-Aside Programs are one facet of an overarching DEI approach. They cannot be merged with the entire DEI.

3) The Montclair Business-Set Aside Program and all Affirmative Action programs are remedial in nature, as the U.S. Supreme Court has held. They should be based on employer and contractor audits of workforces or contracts to determine whether there is a measurable gap in the diversity of workforces and contract forces for persons who have been denied access to employment and contract opportunities based on discrimination, and on an audit that shows vestigial discrimination: underutilization of protected persons as a vestige of a policy and/or practice of discrimination.  

The audit cannot be based on arbitrary decisions as to whether legislators, commissions, residents, or others want to have a designated percentage of the contract dollars or workforce positions set aside for specific groups. The civil rights audits at every level of employment and in every area for which the municipality awards contracts are an essential starting point to provide the municipality or businesses essential information about gaps relative to those in the overall workforce or contract force who are able to provide the desired goods and services. Where meeting the municipality’s excellence and diversity contracting and employment goals is not possible given the need to prepare more excellent and diverse employees or contractors, affirmative steps should be taken to “build our own.” In best practices, the municipality or businesses will establish a numeric goal and timetable for reaching their goal of preparing more diverse persons to meet the needs.

4) In no case would a fair and equitable Affirmative Action policy set one arbitrary goal for all of the diverse protected classes, unless every group of persons the municipality or businesses have covered in their Affirmative Action policies are equally represented among the residents or the qualifying work groups.

A civil rights audit must be conducted, and the data therefrom used to establish specific numeric goals for each covered group.

5) Whether or not there are gaps in employing certain classes of persons who have been denied full access to employment and contracting opportunities, every municipal department and agency, and every Montclair business should have aspirational goals of attaining an excellent and diverse workforce and contract force.

I congratulate the council for considering best practices to adjust Montclair’s Affirmative Action programs and its DEI programs. There is tremendous need for both programs and others. One is not a substitute for the other. 

Dr. Renée Baskerville is a Montclair resident, a physician, a political activist, a former school board member and a former Fourth Ward councilwoman of 12 years. 

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Journalism like Montclair Local's is only possible because of the continued support of our members. Sustaining memberships of $10 a month or more entitle you to our print edition, and help provide us with the stable, predictable financial base that helps us plan to bring you important journalism for years to come. If you value this article or others from Montclair Local, consider becoming a sustaining member; sign up with the form below.