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Minnesota cities, counties and state agencies have spent more than $275,000 in taxpayer funds on a provocative racial equity program led by a national leftwing advocacy group that urges local governments to “resist Trump” and bases its training for public employees on the premise that government institutions and workers are inherently racist, whether they realize it or not.
“The Alliance leads with race, with the recognition that the creation and perpetuation of racial inequities has been baked into government,” according to the Government Alliance on Race & Equity (GARE) website. “From the inception of our country, government at the local, regional, state and federal level has played a role in creating and maintaining racial inequity.”
The organization’s newsletter features hot button headlines like “3 ways Local Government can Heed MLK and Resist Trump” and “Actions Local Jurisdictions Can Take to Protect Immigrants and Refugees.”
Discrimination may be illegal, “but ‘neutral’ policies and practices perpetuate inequity,” according to GARE’s instructional materials, implicitly rejecting a colorblind approach to race relations. GARE aims to “move beyond ‘services’ and focus on changing policies, institutions and structures.” All “policy, practice, program and budget decisions” get viewed and further politicized through the lens of racial disparities.
The alleged racism of police officers in particular gets singled out by the group that partners with GARE to drum up government clients, the League of Minnesota Cities. Kevin Frazell, LMC Director of Member Services, says working with GARE helped him identify “white privilege.”
“There’s no better example I’ve seen than the relationship between law enforcement and people of color,” Frazell said in an interview on GARE’s website. “Officers are not necessarily racist individually, but are instead part of systems that perpetuate racially unequal outcomes. We have to help them see that, avoiding shame and guilt, and instead focusing on what needs to be done.”
GARE appears to have a firmer foothold in Minnesota than any other state. Some 18 cities, three counties, five local governmental units and various state agencies have participated in GARE racial equity training in the last two years, all from the metro area, except for Duluth, Mankato and Red Wing.
An American Experiment survey found the cost to taxpayers varies, depending on staff participation. Ramsey County ($58,100), the Met Council ($25,175) and St. Louis Park ($20,300) rank as the top spenders among counties, government agencies and cities respectively. American Experiment did not obtain spending figures for the several state agencies participating in the program.
The Met Council’s policy of making millions of dollars in parks grants to local governments contingent on tracking park usage with a racial toolkit provides an example of GARE’s influence on public policy.
“Missing from the throngs of visitors were people of color in numbers proportional to their share of the region’s total population,” according to the Met Council website. “The shortfall is especially significant for recent immigrants to the Twin Cities area. In the future, the disparity may widen. People of color are expected to make up 40% of the region’s population by 2040, compared with 24% in 2010.”
But at least one metro area government, suburban Dakota County, has announced staff will opt out of the controversial training next year, following an American Experiment inquiry about the program. Dakota County paid $10,200 to enroll 12 staff members in the program in 2017.
“We will not be using GARE to assist us in this work next year, but will leverage our internal capacity and will evaluate use of other vendors where we need additional assistance”, said Matt Smith, Dakota County Manager in a statement to American Experiment.
In fact, Dakota County’s “bio” appears to have been scrubbed from the GARE website. But the organization’s newsletter still has a notification online characterizing Dakota County government as a place where “more often than not, consciously or unconsciously, policies have benefited white communities while limiting opportunities and outcomes for communities of color.”
“We recognized the need for training we went out and got it,” Smith said in an interview. “We started to understand a little bit later that there was some other baggage that came with that, that in our case at least certainly would make it more difficult to achieve the goals that we wanted to internally. So that caused us to reassess.”
Nevertheless, more than 30 local Minnesota governments, state and local agencies have participated in the provocative program to date, including the office of Gov. Mark Dayton. The League of Minnesota Cities has announced the next round of racial equity training seminars will begin in January.
“There’s no excuse to not be bold, and no room to hide and pretend that you don’t know that disparities exist,” said Joy Marsh Stephens, Equity and Inclusion Manager for the City of Minneapolis in an interview on GARE’s website. “We have to be clear – government played a primary role in the creation and maintenance of racial inequities over the course of a long period of time.”
American Experiment intern Joshua Kavanagh assisted in compiling this report.
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