At its Dec. 10 meeting, the Kirkland City Council received an update on this year’s implicit bias training.
The training was put into motion in late 2018 following a November incident at Totem Lake’s Menchie’s frozen yogurt shop during which Byron Ragland, a black man, was allegedly racially profiled. Ragland, a court-appointed advocate, was at the shop to supervise a court-ordered visitation between a parent and child.
While he was observing the pair from a nearby table, the owner of Menchie’s called 911. An officer questioned Ragland and then asked him to “move along.” The incident led to protests and an apology from the city of Kirkland, Menchie’s and the Kirkland Police Department.
In the immediate aftermath of the incident, the city council and city manager expressed a desire that city employees, including the police department, undergo diversity and implicit bias training by the end of this year.
At the Dec. 10 council meeting, human resources director Chris Thomas shared that throughout the year, 22 training sessions, each about four hours, took place.
Ninety percent of the city’s workforce went through the training (a percentage, according to the meeting agenda item, that reflects absences and professional movement within Kirkland). Almost 100 percent of the police department has also gone through the training.
Anyone newly hired by the city is required to undergo bias training.
“The goal of this training was to uphold and strengthen Kirkland’s commitment to its vision statement that Kirkland is a welcoming place to live, work and play, and a place where diversity is highly valued,” the meeting agenda item states.
The trainings have cost the city a little more than $50,000.
Thomas said she and others from the city’s human resources department have noticed a difference in how employees address their biases.
“People are raising issues and using language they have learned in training to be able to identify why they’re uncomfortable about things,” Thomas said. “It’s actually had a very positive outcome, and we’ve been able to be more supportive and understand what resources we need to give the people.”
Thomas said one of the local trainers, Chanin Kelly-Re, is suggesting there be a retreat for the city’s current diversity committee to navigate how the city will approach implicit bias training for 2020 and beyond.
Thomas noted that at the end of 2020, city staff is planning on a check-in.
In the meantime, the city started developing Welcoming Kirkland, an effort seeking to engage the community in how it addresses inclusivity in Kirkland, in April. The initiative’s planning group, which includes the assistant city manager and police chief, have been meeting monthly since spring, working to identify who to recruit for other groups in the organization.
Contracted with Leadership Eastside (LE), Welcoming Kirkland is slated to be completed in May 2020, with outreach happening in January.
The city council voiced an appreciation for the work and the update. But councilmembers did bring up some concerns.
Mayor Penny Sweet referred to the memo provided at the meeting as a good report card in terms of where the city currently is. But she said it also showed that Kirkland is not as far as she would like it to be, and that she’s seeing more of an issue-by-issue approach instead of a holistic look.
“What this memo didn’t speak to, I think, is sort of the cultural change that we hope to happen in our community as we learn through these tools and learn through the conversations that happen because of them,” Sweet said. “At some point, I would like to see us expand a little bit in terms of discussion, in terms of just dealing with issues to learn a way to really incorporate that.”
Councilmember Neal Black agreed with Sweet.
“It’s too easy to just be reactive to the issue, the most recent incident and take a very targeted approach to reviewing the policies and procedures related to that particular incident,” he said. “I think that’s a good starting point, but I think it’s really important that we also take the next step. And I think we’re doing that — I know that staff is considering how we go about doing that and Welcoming Kirkland is part of that. I would just emphasize that being more proactive and thinking about not just the incident in front of us but trying to think ahead to policies and procedures and building this ethic throughout our community so that we don’t keep having incidents pop up.”