Livingston Equity Project
Michael Kardoes, City Manager
Meaningful inclusion and equity are a challenge everywhere, but perhaps more so in communities that are not culturally diverse. Equity and inclusion in city services requires a self-examination of all the ways in which community members can be unintentionally excluded or marginalized.
Livingston, Montana, is a rural community with a population of 7,800, of whom only 8.6 percent identify as other than Caucasian. The city began its self-examination in response to community complaints about aged infrastructure and concerns in the wake of the tragic events in early 2020 that brought conversations about race and equity into every American community. Livingston conducted a 205 Analysis, a process named for the part of Montana law concerning nondiscrimination requirements in access to and provision of local government services. The analysis became a blueprint for identifying inclusion and equity gaps and revising practices and policies.
All city departments participated in strategic planning that established three goals for the Livingston Equity Project: (1) comprehensive educational programs for staff; (2) addressing physical barriers; and (3) removing access barriers to city services. With gaps in all areas, the challenge was to prioritize and remove barriers and plan for ongoing improvements. During 2020 and 2021, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Livingston continued implementing the Equity Project through the following initiatives.
- Employee Education. With in-person training suspended during the pandemic, Livingston contracted for cloud-based training in microaggressions, creating a welcoming work culture, trust and tribalism in the workplace, and bridging the millennial-boomer divide. Livingston’s police chief included additional training on ethics in law enforcement, implicit bias, anti-bias training, and de-escalation tactics. The officers, the union, and management requested and received a state-of-the-art body camera system.
- Access to Buildings and City Infrastructure. Livingston developed and implemented an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) transition plan to identify and eliminate physical barriers to buildings and raise streets so that sidewalk transitions can be easily navigated by individuals with limited mobility. Departments in older buildings modified operations so that residents can receive services on the ground level. A new city hall facility purchased in 2020 is completely ADA compliant and co-locates frequently visited departments in a single downtown location on a bus route.
- Removing Access Barriers to City Services. The city reviewed its operations, including commonly used forms, to identify unintentional barriers or extraneous questions. As a result, the city revised public documents, moved several transactions to an electronic platform for ease of use, and converted its website to be ADA compliant.
- Demonstrating Inclusion and Equity. Proclamations delivered at city commission meetings codify the city’s commitment to being a safe and welcoming community for people of color and of any religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation. In 2020, Livingston became one of a handful of communities in Montana to recognize Indigenous People’s Day. The city commission voted to convert all city contracts, documents, and ordinances to gender-neutral language and pronouns and change public communications.
Tangible results of the program include a reduction in ADA complaints for building access, reduced complaints against police officers, and increased collection rates on utility bills. In 2020 the city added questions relating to diversity and equity to its annual employee climate survey, and 82.4 percent of employees who responded answered that they believed people are treated fairly and equitably.
Through implementation, city leaders have come to realize that the work of inclusion and equity is never finished despite Livingston’s impressive strides. The issues are complex and challenging, yet city leaders continue to work through them as colleagues committed to creating a better community that is safe, diverse, and inclusive and treats all its residents and visitors with fairness, dignity, and equity.