BOCC approves equity plan funding

The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) discussed its new equity plan and how to memorialize the late Judge Stephen Mickle at  its regular Tuesday meeting.

The BOCC approved funding for the new equity plan unanimously. The funding includes a citizen stipend, employee special duty pay and hiring an outside consultant.

The cost to run the plan for six months will be $202,390.

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Diedre Houchen, equity and community outreach manager for the county, explained the plan at the board’s Aug. 24 meeting, when the BOCC unanimously approved it.

The plan includes a 15-hour onboarding workshop and eight to 10 bi-weekly meetings for 30 key county employees who would constitute a strategic leadership team, creating an equity advisory council of 15 county citizens and a community outreach structure.

Houchen called the plan ambitious, involving 48 trained personnel and not just one hired equity leader.

“I think it’s the most effective and efficient way for us to learn about these issues together and to create work plans in all the departments of the county that are actually going to change lives,” Houchen said.

The funding allows bi-weekly meetings for the necessary personnel to receive extensive training on the issues. Following those six months, these employees return to their work as usual with the training in place.

Commissioner Mary Alford said she worried about any negative feelings toward the work of equity that might arise from the bi-weekly meetings. She said employees might feel resentful that certain staff get $5,000 extra for attending these meetings while they have to potentially bear the burden of the reduced staff during the training.

“If they’re in a four hour meeting one day, that’s four hours they aren’t doing something else,” Alford said.

And other employees will fill the gap for those four or more hours.

Houchen said many employees purposefully work for the county to help people and are excited about the work that will be done under the equity plan.

They would, Houchen said, be willing to take on extra responsibilities for the time in order to see the work being done.

Alford asked, “I guess I’m still thinking, if everybody is so excited about it, why do we have to pay them?” 

Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler said the pay is like a stipend for an extra job. The personnel involved in the 15-hour workshop are still responsible for their job but now have a second job to attend to.

The board also talked about the newly renamed criminal courthouse in honor of the late Judge Stephen Mickle.

The county had already budgeted $10,000 for new outdoor signage. The family of Mickle put together a plan to honor the judge with a display about his life inside the courthouse.

The changes would remove unused phone booths on the second and third floors and replace them with educational exhibits about the life of Mickle.

The board approved $12,500 for new outdoor signage and put forward a match of up to $50,000 that will go toward a static educational display on  the first floor of the building.

The BOCC approved the preliminary broadband plan that will use $15 million in American Rescue Plan money along with the $2.5 million plan that Alachua County Fire Rescue would use.

Those plans will come back to the commission for final approvals.

The BOCC also accepted a contract with Meridian Behavioral Healthcare to help fund an additional Co-Responder Team for GPD. Each team consists of one GPD officer and one Meridian Behavioral Healthcare clinician and focuses on mental health calls.

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