Supervisors order listening sessions to gather public input on possible changes

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RIVERSIDE (CNS) – The Board of Supervisors Tuesday, Aug. 4 unanimously voted to convene at least two listening sessions in September to gauge how the county might improve public health, social and other services, and also passed a resolution declaring racial disparities in the delivery of services.
“This will be a slow process of listening and trying to get a grip on the challenges we face,” Supervisor Kevin Jeffries said. “There are some who want us to move faster on issues and jump on the bandwagon right away. But that’s not my style. We need to build a consensus and have thoughtful, deep discussions. We will be moving slowly and carefully on this.”
Supervisor Manuel Perez joined Jeffries in introducing the proposal for listening sessions. As part of the endeavor, they said they are hoping to develop “strategies to provide health and wellness services to our underserved populations by integrating our behavioral health, community health, population health … and other operations.”
The sessions will also serve as an opportunity for public safety officials to engage residents on matters that they feel are of major importance, including possible racial inequities in policing, according to the supervisors.
“The pressing social, health care, public safety, workforce and education needs of our county, combined with the growing financial constraints, justifies an ongoing reexamination or `re-imagining’ as to how our services can be improved … (and) restructured,” according to a statement posted to the board’s policy agenda.
Jeffries pointed out that no matter the number of good intentions, pursuing some goals may be beyond the county’s capability now because of significant budget constraints tied to the public health regulations that impacted most of the regional economy when the coronavirus emergency began. The county anticipates losing $100 million or more in revenue in the current fiscal year.
“The entire COVID response and reaction really crimped our style in being able to engage the public,” Jeffries said. “The path we need now is to listen first, discuss, review, then put items on the agenda.”
More information about the schedule for the sessions will be announced later this month.
Meantime, Perez and Washington agendized a resolution, also ratified in a 5-0 vote, titled “Declaring Racism And Inequality as a Public Health Crisis.”
The substance of the declaration focuses on non-specific discrimination in “housing, education, employment, transportation and criminal justice.”
The availability of health care, regardless of race or economic status, is foremost among the concerns cited in the resolution.
“(We need) to implement solutions to eliminate systemic inequity in all external services provided by the county,” according to the declaration.
“This attempts to acknowledge that the structure of our society has not met the aspirations of our founding fathers,” Washington said. “This is not finger-pointing. We live in the greatest, most diverse country on the face of the earth.”