The city drastically overstated its progress in implementing the recommendations from a 2016 report that found rampant anti-Black racism in the municipal workforce, leaving one councillor wondering whether the city has done anything since to address discrimination.
Last year, the department reported that 87.9% (79) of the 90 recommendations from the Employment Systems Review, or ESR, were complete. On Tuesday, human resources director Caroline Blair-Smith told councillors that in fact, only 40% (36) are complete.
The originally confidential 139-page ESR, conducted by Turner Consulting Group, was publicly released in 2018 after Black city workers protested a lack of action on the recommendations in front of Halifax City Hall.
The review looked into the since-dissolved Municipal Operations Programs (MOPS) department, which mainly included transportation and public works employees. It was tabled in January 2016 after the consultants reviewed city policies, conducted an online survey of employees and interviewed supervisors and human resources staff between September and November 2015.
The review found anti-Black racism within the department.
“The overwhelming opinion of the African Nova Scotian employees with whom we spoke is that they have experienced incidents of harassment and discrimination in the workplace,” the report said.
“While all African Nova Scotian employees may not experience interpersonal harassment themselves, the climate created by the incidents that occur and are not immediately addressed, coupled with the glass ceiling they experience and negative attitudes expressed about their ambition and aptitude to advance, serves to reinforce anti-Black racism within MOPS.”
A few months after the public release of the report, municipal staff told council that more than 60% of its recommendations had been implemented. The most recent progress report said 87.9% were complete.
Neither update was true.
On Tuesday, regional council debated and passed recommendations from a new confidential human resources processes and practices review by KPMG. Buried in the staff report was an admission:
While reviewing the above external review, it was decided that an internal audit of the progress reported on the Employment Systems Review (ESR) should be completed. The percentage of completed recommendations was found to be significantly lower than was previously understood, and currently stands at 40% complete with 60% of the recommendations outstanding. As a result, this work will be incorporated with the recommendations above to create a workplan that encompasses both external reviews. The combined workplan is expected to take up to 24 months for completion.
Coun. Lindell Smith said Tuesday’s revelation confirmed his suspicions about the progress reports tabled over the last few years.
“There’s no way we could complete that many recommendations in that amount of time,” he told the Examiner.
“I had a feeling that we might’ve been overstating our completion, but not to the extent that it said 80-something per cent when we had 40.”
Smith said to have that feeling confirmed was “disappointing” and “concerning.”
“These are serious issues when it comes to racism and discrimination, and have we just not done anything? I don’t know,” he said.
The incorrect numbers were still published on the municipality’s website Tuesday night.
Smith noted there’s a new director in charge of human resources, Blair-Smith, and the fact she admitted the mistake is promising. He also thinks the recommendations passed on Tuesday could make a difference in addressing diversity and inclusion issues across the municipal workforce.