El Dorado County supervisors strike bias training | TahoeDailyTribune.com

El Dorado County supervisors strike bias training

Eric Jaramishian / Mountain Democrat

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors has removed the implicit bias training requirement for board-appointed members of committees and commissions.

In discussion at last week’s board meeting, supervisors claimed the training caused issues with their appointees. 

District 4 Supervisor Lori Parlin said the board has seen “unintended consequences” from the training, including resignation of commission members, added difficulty in recruitment and inconsistent training.

Parlin shared that the clerk of the board’s office reported a 67% compliance rate for the training.

“How much time do we want staff to spend on this chasing down people that aren’t going to take it and what are the consequences?” Parlin asked. “We set ourselves up for inconsistencies in requiring this training. 

“If the clerk’s office determines someone isn’t doing the training, there is this notion out there that we could just say we are down to an honor system and we can tell people ‘Just say you did it,’” she continued. “What is the point in that?” 

The training would still be available for viewing online.

In February 2021 former District 5 Supervisor Sue Novasel and District 2 Supervisor Geroge Turnboo recommended requiring all appointees to complete implicit bias training that teaches how decisions can be made based on unintentional judgements and behaviors.

Chief Administrative Officer Don Ashton noted that concerns of a former appointee drove the implicit bias training requirement, which did not garner full board support at the time. 

District 3 Supervisor Wendy Thomas said she would feel uncomfortable burdening staff to reach out to those who have not completed the implicit bias training when the board is not aligned in how to respond.

“Some of us felt more strongly that they would ask someone to step down but others said they would not kick a volunteer off a committee if they haven’t fulfilled this requirement and that creates a consistency and confusion problem,” Thomas explained. 

District 1 Supervisor John Hidhal said certain commissions should have key understandings of implicit bias, using the El Dorado County Planning Commission as an example, a commission authorized to make decisions on the board’s behalf.

“I think there are a few select commissions and committees that I think should continue to require it but not across the board. I think we strongly encourage it,” Hidahl said. “There’s value in understanding we all have built-in biases and we don’t necessarily know what they are until you go through some detailed screenings on what your feelings are relative to things and they start to surface. So I think it’s helpful overall to anyone who is in government service to be exposed to that but not to the extent that we mandate it to every commission or committee.”

Clerk of the Board Kim Dawson said while many appointees embraced the training, two or three appointees resigned from their positions when the training became a requirement. 

That is to be expected, noted District 5 Supervisor Brooke Laine.

“Sixty-seven percent is good compliance. That would pass a tax measure by the voters and that’s a high bar to get to,” Laine said. “I don’t think that is a failure, I think that is a success.”

Laine added that the training should still be a requirement.

“It demonstrates that we are putting important investments into our volunteers, commissioners and committee members that represent the whole community and I think it’s important when you decide to make the decision to help this county move forward and agree to serve on a body, even if it is only advisory, it’s important that you are aware of your biases,” Laine continued. 

County Counsel David Livingston said the training is always beneficial to mitigate legal risk. 

“If we were ever faced with a claim based upon some illegal conduct of a particular comissioner and it was based on some racial criteria or other impermissible activity, having training like this could be used in the county’s defense,” Livingston commented. 

District 2 Planning Commissioner Kris Payne, who took the training, said the training felt like it was “indoctrinating” those who participated. 

“I thought when I was taking it … ‘This isn’t me and not the way I act,’” Payne shared. “Every time someone said something to the effect of ‘No, you are this way.’ I just got upset because I am not that way. You get enough of these case studies … by the end, I’m implicitly biased, if I believed what people had said as they were trying to train me into not being that way.” 

Placerville resident Kirk Smith told supervisors he was shocked by the board’s reasonings to remove implicit bias training.

“If you had employees that had a lousy driving record, would you let them continue to be employed using dangerous vehicles?” Smith asked. “All of us have biases. The object is to become aware and knowledgable of them.”

Laine recommended all appointees complete the training within six months of their appointment or risk forfeiting their seat. 

Livingston recommended to the board require the training for commissions that require statements of economic interests. 

Thomas made a motion based on his recommendation that went to a 4-1 board vote with Parlin casting a “no” vote.

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