New OC Diversity Position Approved

New OC Diversity Position Approved
File Photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY – Resort officials this week agreed to create a new Recruitment, Inclusion and Diversity position, but not before a very frank and lengthy discussion of race and equality issues.

Over the past year or so, the Town of Ocean City has struggled with recruiting employees for a variety of reasons. In November, the council voted to unanimously to start the process of hiring a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) position and directed staff to begin crafting a job description. On a parallel course, town officials were also exploring a second potential recruiting, retention and inclusion (RRI) job description.

On Tuesday, City Manager Terry McGean presented to the Mayor and Council a single job description that would be able to handle both of the aforementioned positions. McGean explained recruiting would be the primary focus of the new position and suggested reaching out to previously untapped and under-represented communities close by to recruit and round out a diverse workforce.

“When I came on board, there were concerns from department heads and also concerns from the mayor with really two things coming up,” he said. “One is our need to do a better job recruiting employees and some of the challenges we’ve had, particularly in the last year-and-a-half. The second thing was trying to work on improving the diversity of our workforce and make sure the people we have working here are comfortable working here.”

McGean said the process began with the exploration to two positions, but after discussions with former City Manager Doug Miller, Mayor Rick Meehan and Human Resources Director Katie Callan, it was determined the responsibilities spelled out in the job descriptions could likely be handled by the same person. McGean said the town might not always be looking in the right place for potential employees, not that it was intentional.

“I also think as we look at this, we look at our own next-door neighbors,” he said. “We need to look at our closest neighborhoods and make sure we are looking at all of the resources that might be there. Maybe we haven’t done a good job with that in the past.”

McGean said the main focus is recruiting, but there is an element in the proposed job description to ensure the municipal workplace is a healthy one.

“I see this position first and foremost as improving recruiting, particularly in some of the non-traditional areas,” he said. “The second piece of this is making sure that we are promoting a diverse workforce and also when we bring people in here, they feel accepted and welcomed.”

Councilman John Gehrig asked if there were policies in place to handle complaints of discrimination in the city’s workforce.

“If we have an employee that’s disrespectful to another staff member regarding race, or sex, or sexual orientation, do we have a discipline policy in place?” he said. “If someone is mean, do we have a procedure in place to deal with that? Have we received any complaints that that is not the case?”

McGean said there were such policies in place, although there had not been too many issues. As for Gehrig’s questions about the job description for the new position specifically, McGean took exception.

“I strongly disagree,” he said. “It’s part of the job description. My thought is the primary focus of this is recruitment. We’re getting ready to talk about spending millions of dollars on employee housing. There might be people that live a lot closer and don’t need that. We need to do a better job of reaching out to them.”

Gehrig continued to question what policies and procedures were in place to handle employee complaints. The long and short of it is, there are evidently layers of procedures from immediate supervisors, to department heads, and human resources and ultimately the city manager. McGean said he wasn’t entirely comfortable with how Gehrig was leading the conversation.

“The way you’re leading the discussion is are we punishing people for doing wrong,” he said. “The answer is yes, we are punishing people who do the wrong thing, but we certainly aren’t excluding anybody. The question is, are we reaching out in an effective way? Are the traditional methods we use effective? To me, that’s the most important part.”

McGean explained the traditional means by which the town advertises employment opportunities and job descriptions might not always reach the right people or the best candidates. Gehrig, however, said that assertion might be ill-founded.

“All people consume media,” he said. “It’s not like some people are using the internet and other people are using the pony express. What are our problems? What are the challenges? I don’t think we’re solving a problem with this. We need to make sure our policies match our definitions.”

McGean emphasized the main thrust of creating the new position was recruiting and making sure job opportunities were being presented to all sectors of the population.

“To me, our biggest problem right now is getting people,” he said. “That’s the primary focus of this position. We go overseas to find people, and we don’t, in my opinion, reach out to our own communities. I don’t know the answer, but I do know if you don’t know the right way to shake somebody’s hand, if you don’t know the right way to shake your neighbor’s hand, how do you even introduce yourself.”

Gehrig questioned what the intent of the creation of the new diversity position was.

“Are we talking about foreign kids?” he said. “Are we talking about retired military, are we talking about women, black, white, Asian? To me, it’s everything because we’re all people. I never look at the leadership of my company and think 90% of my people are women. I don’t even look at things like that until this shows up on the agenda.”

McGean said without reaching out to all communities, the town could be missing potential employment candidates.

“The purpose of this is to find those good people, because we might be missing them,” he said. “This is not accusing people. This is not excluding people. I’m not accusing any of our department heads of being racist. We just need to reach out to some of these communities because clearly we’ve never done a good a job as we can do.”

As far as perceptions, McGean said it is difficult to put oneself in another’s shoes, which is part of the reasoning behind creating the new position.

“It would be conceited of me to sit here in my position and the way I’ve lived my life and who I am and say I know the culture in Ocean City is great for everybody,” he said. “I know the culture in Ocean City is great for people who think like me. I don’t know if somebody who doesn’t look like shares my feelings about Ocean City. I don’t think anybody in this room does.”

Gehrig agreed not everybody sees Ocean City, or its work environment, or anything really, the same way.

“I understand we all look at life through different lenses,” he said. “That doesn’t make anybody better or worse. It’s just different. Honestly, I think the world is a better place.”

Meehan agreed.

“We want to make sure we’re not looking at everything through our eyes only” he said. “Sometimes, we can all be guilty of that. It’s really about reaching out, expanding the net. Maybe by casting a bigger net, we get better people and more people. We’re not always perceived as we think we are.”

After considerable debate, the council voted 5-1 with Gehrig opposed and Council Secretary Tony DeLuca absent to approve the job description and the creation of the new position. The discussion about salary and benefits will resume later this month when budget deliberations begin for fiscal years 2023. McGean said he anticipated the starting salary to be around $60,000, with a total fiscal impact in the first year around $80,000 when benefits are added.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.