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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Wilkerson spearheads formation of new equity subcommittee in Spokane City Hall

Spokane City Hall.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Spokane City Hall. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Sparked by the social inequities made glaringly apparent by the COVID-19 pandemic, a new board in Spokane City Hall will focus on equity and inclusion.

The Spokane City Council voted last week to form an ad hoc equity subcommittee beneath its Finance and Administration Committee, the body tasked with reviewing city finances and government structure.

The subcommittee was formed by a resolution sponsored by Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson, who said the pandemic has “confirmed what many of us already knew.”

“COVID puts a spotlight on the inequities and the importance for us in government to build relationships and to create programs and policy in collaboration with communities impacted by inequities,” Wilkerson said.

The pandemic brought renewed attention to longstanding inequities.

According to the Spokane Regional Health District, people of color disproportionately have underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to the virus, often because they lack access to health care. Immigrant families are more likely to live in multigenerational households, increasing the risk of transmission, and people of color are more likely to be exposed through work.

The subcommittee will serve as an advisory committee to the council and not make final decisions.

Councilman Michael Cathcart was the only member to vote against the formation of the subcommittee. He argued that its work would duplicate that of the existing Human Rights Commission, and that the resolution did not call for geographic equity.

Northeast Spokane, the district Cathcart represents, has not received its fair share of city spending, he added.

“I really believe that northeast Spokane needs equity,” Cathcart said.

But his seatmate, Councilwoman Kate Burke, said their district includes many of the people of color and poor residents of the city. If it’s failed to receive its due in city spending, “it’s not because of its location in the city, it’s because of the people who live in it,” Burke said.

The equity subcommittee, she added, “will help people of color, and it will help people who are in poverty, which is going to be District 1.”

Once established, the equity subcommittee will be tasked with working with council members and administration officials on the city budget and policies, as well as forging relationships with the community.

The group can recommend changes to city law or policy to improve equity and inclusion.

The City Council will be tasked with appointing the subcommittee members, of which there will be at least five.

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