DOVER — Following a unanimous vote Monday, City Council will begin receiving diversity and inclusion consultation through United Way of Delaware’s Fusion Alliance.
The program, offered through a partnership between United Way, the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce and the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce, will offer consultation beginning Friday.
The first year will cost the city $5,000. The price increases in the second year to $15,000 should the leaders continue with the program.
The city does have the option to opt out if it does not add money to the fiscal year 2023 budget to cover the cost.
Before council approved the contract, which received staff recommendation, Councilman Fred Neil made a motion to delay the vote 30 days. That motion failed 4-3, with council members Neil, William Hare and Roy Sudler voting in favor.
Councilman Matt Lindell did not attend the meeting, while Councilman Gerald Rocha stepped out of chambers for the discussion and vote because he is an employee of United Way.
Interim City Manager Matt Harline summed up the initiative’s work as “coaching (the city’s) workforce to do a better job in attracting and retaining a diverse workforce through the Fusion Alliance’s curriculum.”
“I think this is an excellent collaborative project,” he said. “It’s not just the city of Dover that will be entering into this collaboration. There will be other cities to compare our progress with.”
He said that while Dover has “far to go” in terms of its diversity and inclusion efforts, “there is a universal interest among the department heads.”
Councilman Hare added that, since prior reports on the topics of diversity and inclusion did not produce results, he was not supporting the motion at first.
Noting that he understood where Councilman Hare’s concerns were coming from, Councilman Andre Boggerty said that what Fusion Alliance offers appears to be “more robust, more involved, more hands-on” consulting.
“It’s an actual tool to utilize,” he said. “(Fusion Alliance) is going to walk us through the process instead of just giving us information and saying apply it ourselves.”
During an earlier Council of the Whole meeting, Michelle Taylor, president and CEO of United Way of Delaware, explained that Fusion Alliance aims to transform the culture and landscape within businesses, starting at the senior level and working down.
She said the alliance will help “foster conversations” and help the city develop a plan to achieve higher levels of diversity and inclusion. The goals are to increase interest in people applying to work for the city and to lessen the turnover rate.
Though he eventually voted for the initiative, Councilman Neil at first suggested delaying a decision until November to allow the city to find people who are willing to work first.
“So we can make sure that all of our ducks are in order and find some sort of a pool of people who are willing to come here,” he said. “You can’t diversify if they’re not showing up.”
Councilman Boggerty said the city should take “appropriate steps and appropriate measures” to address any issues now, rather than wait to fix problems once new employees are in place.
“To wait until we get employees, … I think that’s kind of backwards,” he said. “I think we need to address what we need to address, and then, our constituents and others will see that we’re really making an honest effort to make the city of Dover, the great city of Dover — which I love and we all love because we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t — a place not only to live but a place to work, as well.”
Councilman David Anderson also supported the training, saying that as the workforce market improves, the city needs to be ready.
He also praised Fusion Alliance for not being “another study” and more action-oriented.
“I want to praise our city manager for saying, ‘Let’s stop talking. Let’s stop talking and let’s get some people here who know how to help us over this hill,’” Councilman Anderson said. “We haven’t figured out in 300 years how to get this done in the city of Dover, so maybe we need someone to help us.”
Councilman Sudler said he originally wanted to delay the vote so he could see more data that speaks to Fusion Alliance’s effectiveness.
“I’m always about data, and I just was not that convinced that, at this time, what we are faced with and confronted with, that right now is the best time to do this,” he said.