Acting mayor appoints first chief equity officer for Anchorage

Published: Apr. 23, 2021 at 2:26 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - As part of the Anchorage Municipality’s response to concerns brought up last summer during protests in Anchorage and around the world against police brutality and systemic racism, a chief equity officer is set to begin work in a newly created office and position next week.

Acting Anchorage Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson selected Clifford Armstrong III to serve as Anchorage’s first chief equity officer. He most recently served as the City of Tacoma’s equity in contracting and workforce development program manager.

Last year, former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz submitted an ordinance later passed by the Anchorage Assembly that created the Office of Equity and Justice, and the new position.

“The remedy that we think will make a difference over the long term is to build in some structural equity and structural justice, and we wanted to make sure that there was a person at the municipality who woke up every day willing to champion those issues,” Berkowitz said at the time.

During a Friday assembly work session ahead of Armstrong’s planned assembly confirmation next week, Quinn-Davidson said the mayor’s office partnered with representatives from First Alaskans Institute and the Alaska Black Chamber of Commerce to interview and select a candidate.

“We felt since this position not only would be important for the muni but for our entire community, that we wanted to state the process from the beginning by engaging different members of our community,” she said.

Armstrong said he is humbled and honored by the appointment and called the timing of the job opening fortuitous, as his wife is from Homer and the couple was already planning to move to Anchorage.

“I do have a lot of experience in inequity work,” Armstrong said. “In my last position with the City of Tacoma, I created what’s called the Equity and Contracting Program, which is a race-and gender-conscious contracting requirement program.”

The municipality job listing included the following examples of duties related to the position:

  • Support and manage municipal policies and programs that promote equity and opportunity.
  • Work with the Mayor’s Office to recruit and manage municipal boards and commissions to ensure community representation.
  • Develop leadership opportunities for municipal staff and residents designed to provide career advancement pathways for communities of color, the disability community, immigrants and refugees, LGBTQ+ residents.
  • Ensure municipal compliance with language access laws.
  • Works closely with OEO, AERC, Ombudsman Office, Resilience Subcabinet and represent equity concerns throughout municipal efforts on housing equity, food security, equitable climate action, legal rights and justice issues, and economic equity.
  • Establish baseline equity data targets/benchmarks in collaboration with partners; and establish goals and initiatives to make progress and processes to track outcomes.
  • Develop methods to determine how disparate impacts will be documented and evaluated.
  • Collects, evaluates, and analyzes indicators and progress benchmarks related to addressing systemic disparities.
  • Direct, evaluate, and coordinate analyses and recommendations regarding race and equity policy issues and long-range plans.
  • Develops and coordinates reports and supporting materials to be presented to the mayor and assembly for information or action.
  • Develop consistent communication and feedback mechanisms.
  • Stay abreast of research and best practice in equity and inclusion and infuse/adapt to municipal government.
  • Develop and foster key community partnerships. Develop and deepen relationships with community members and non-profits committed to racial equity work.
  • Participates in community equity collaborations on behalf of the municipality.
  • Prepare clear, concise, and comprehensive correspondence, reports, studies, and other written materials.
  • Perform other related duties as assigned.

During the worksession Friday, assembly member Meg Zaletel asked Armstrong how he would manage competing ideas of what equitability means in Anchorage, as he will be working with both the assembly and the mayor’s office.

“I think the place to start is with a common definition of exactly what equity is and exactly what inclusion is and exactly what diversity is, and working from that common definition,” Armstrong said. “I think everybody would agree that they want people to be free from discrimination or be free from any sort of negative outcomes that might be pre-determined because of some factor that they were born into and couldn’t control, or some other sort of societal ill.”

Assembly member Christopher Constant asked Armstrong about his thoughts on reaching out to members of the community who do not see the value in focusing on equity and instead push for neutral policies.

“There’s a process for addressing the sort of ... inequities in these issues, which is that first, you have to be able to prove that they exist, right, and you prove that things exist by having well-defined studies and well-defined data that leads to a particular issue, so that everybody can see exactly what our problem is and how bad of a problem it is, if it exists at all,” Armstrong said. “And then you have to address such things in neutral ways. So the folks that may want to suggest that that’s what we do, I actually agree because that’s a part of the process. You have to try to solve things, even if they may have race-and gender-conscious outcomes or there may be race-and gender-based outcomes, you do actually, legally speaking, need to try to address them specifically in a race-and gender-neutral way, and then have that fail, and then you can engage in what are called narrowly-tailored options to race and gender such things.”

Deputy Municipal Attorney Deitra Ennis said she found Armstrong’s answers to be very reassuring.

“Almost all of Mr. Armstrong’s words and answers to questions are both consistent with and in fact taken from some Ninth Circuit precedent which is very difficult to follow,” Ennis said.

According to a letter from Quinn-Davidson to Armstrong, he will make an annual salary of $115,003 and serve in an appointed capacity at the pleasure of the mayor.

The assembly is set to vote on Armstrong’s confirmation during its regular meeting on Tuesday, April 27.

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