The City of San Luis Obispo is nearing the end of the hiring process for its inaugural diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) manager. This comes a year after a task force of residents and Cal Poly community members helped draft diversity goals for the city.

Deputy City Manager Greg Hermann told Mustang News the city council was hoping to finalize the decision by Jan. 1, but the city received an unprecedented 51 applications from people across the country. Officials extended the interview process through next week and expect to have the position filled by the end of the month, according to Dale Magee, the interim DEI project manager.

Magee served as a coordinator and facilitator of the DEI Task Force, a temporary advisory body of local leaders that met from September 2020 to January 2021 and provided recommendations to the city council for furthering diversity goals.

“Successful candidates who really stood out to us had strong internal management experience and external community experience,” Magee said.

Local efforts to bolster inclusion emerged in the wake of social justice marches and rallies in the summer of 2020 after a viral video of a Minneapolis police officer killing George Floyd sparked outrage nationwide. San Luis Obispo became the subject of national attention following the widely publicized Black Lives Matter demonstration on July 21, 2020, that resulted in the arrest of four young activists, including Tianna Arata.

After the task force shared its recommendations with city council members in a 23-page report in January 2021, Amman Asfaw, former Cal Poly student and former chair of the DEI Task Force, said he was told the City would hire a DEI manager by December.

“It’s unfortunate and frustrating to hear that it’s taking this long,” Asfaw said.

The electrical engineering alumnus said he also felt concerned about having all DEI-related responsibilities on one person’s shoulders. He cited that there is a need for representation.

“How can you have one person, regardless of their background, make DEI decisions on behalf of other communities? You’ve got to have multiple voices, opinions, perspectives and outlooks,” Asfaw said.

The San Luis Obispo City Council listed DEI as one of its four major goals in the 2021-2023 city budget. Some of the DEI strategies put forward by city council members include finding alternative methods to policing, collaborating with Cal Poly and Cuesta College to host cultural events for the community and supporting minority-owned businesses, according to the financial plan.

As part of the lengthy hiring process, the city employed a national recruitment firm to sort through applications and determine which applicants meet the criteria outlined in the job description. Afterward, Magee said a team composed of herself, Cal Poly Director of Student Diversity and Belonging Beya Makakau, City Manager Derek Johnson and other city staff members evaluated applications and narrowed down the pool to six candidates they would interview in person.

The hiring committee is conducting its third round of interviews next week, Magee said.

The DEI manager will organize and implement citywide programs and initiatives aimed at strengthening the city’s culture of belonging.

Those evaluating applications, like Magee, said they are looking for a candidate familiar with the intersections of race, power and privilege with at least five years of experience managing DEI, social justice or community outreach programs. Since this will be the first position of its kind in San Luis Obispo, the person who assumes the role will have the authority to set the expectation for future managers, according to the job description.

The purpose of the permanent position is two-fold: to help move the recommendations from the DEI Task Force forward and to make San Luis Obispo a “more welcoming and inclusive place,” Hermann told Mustang News.

As a part of the job, the manager will also help establish an Office of DEI for the City of San Luis Obispo, similar to the Office of Emergency Services and the Office of Sustainability.

“We are looking for someone who really wants to be here for a long time to take (the city’s goals) to the next step,” Magee said.

The estimated salary range for the DEI manager is between $103,000 and $129,000, depending on the candidate’s qualifications and experience.

City council members voted to allocate more than $1.1 million in funding toward advancing DEI initiatives for the 2021-2022 fiscal year and more than $920,000 for 2022-2023, according to the city’s website.

Dusty Coyler-Worth, the director of engagement and inclusion for the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce and former DEI Task Force member, said appointing a DEI manager for the community was one of the task force’s highest priorities.

“We know that San Luis Obispo is a predominantly white area that has systemic racism, so we want the city to advance diversity, equity and inclusion on purpose and with purpose,” Coyler-Worth said.

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