The city of Salem wants its workforce to look more like the city’s population.

Salem is taking a two-pronged approach to accomplishing this task. Internally, a staff committee is looking at diversity, equity and inclusion in its hiring and contracting practices.

Last week, the Salem Budget Committee recommended the city set aside $150,000 of federal Covid relief money for a two-year position that would develop strategies to recruit more people of color.

One of the city’s values outlined in the five-year strategic plan is to be inclusive and ensure equity and accessibility across city services.

“Diversity is a core strength of our community and we are dedicated to creating a city where everyone—regardless of culture, race, or ability—can thrive,” the strategic plan reads.

Krishna Namburi, Salem’s employee, enterprise and technology services director, said the goal of the program is to invest in tools where the city can measure progress and look into what training can be provided to city staff.

After human resources and the IT department consolidated last month, Namburi said there was about $60,000 in cost savings they set aside for diversity, equity and inclusion work. She said that money will mostly go toward staff training.

Another goal is to create a sustainable recruitment program with a focus on fire and police.

The Salem Police Department and Salem Fire Department have remained mostly white even as Salem has grown significantly more diverse.

Salem police have 173 white officers, 15 Hispanic officers, one Black officer and one American Indian officer. 

The Salem Fire Department has 227 whites, nine Latinos, three Blacks, three Alaskan natives, two Asians and three multiracial people. About 8% of the fire department’s workforce is a racial or ethnic minority.

By contrast, Salem is 65% white, 26% Hispanic, 2% Asian and 1% each Black, Native and Islander, according to Census data.

“We know we don’t represent our community right now as we should,” Fire Chief Mike Niblock said during a budget committee meeting.

During that meeting, both Niblock and Police Chief Trevor Womack said a dedicated recruiter within each of their departments would help address the lack of diversity in their workforce.

Womack told Salem Reporter in March that short-term fixes to the police force’s majority-white roster are difficult. He said it will take a decade to see the results from work the department does to build relationships in communities of color now.

In 2019, the city formally adopted a diversity, equity and inclusion plan which included removing names from job applications to combat bias and expanding recruiting for positions nationally.

Peter Fernandez, public works director, is leading the staff committee that will apply equity and inclusion processes to hiring and examine barriers to diversity. That group met for the first time Monday.

He said the committee will look at the contracts it awards and see if they’re reaching out to women, minority and veteran-owned businesses for that work.

“Are insurance requirements too high? Are our bonding requirements too high? Are our contracts too big? Are people just afraid to submit a bid to the city? What can we do to then bring diversity? So that’s another thing that we’ve already have in our minds,” Fernandez said.

He expects recommendations to come out of the committee in the fall.

Namburi said a decade ago the IT Department started a paid internship program after not seeing enough applicants for job postings.

They started recruiting local high school and college students to learn in the department, which later opened up the applicant pool, she said.

“I’m actually very proud to say that a lot of our candidates that got trained here, they’ll come and work as interns for us. Some of them join the city as full-time employees. There are students that have decided to go move on to Intel, Amazon for good reasons,” Namburi said.

Namburi said they’re looking into what measures they can have in place to hold themselves accountable to the work.

She said once a diversity, equity and inclusion program is in place and the two-year position comes to a close, the human resources department will continue with that work.

“I think there is a lot of growth opportunity here,” she said. 

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected]

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