Sound Off: Island County’s commitment to equity is unwavering


Island County commissioner

As we celebrate our American democracy this week, we remember these stirring words from the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

We are all created equal. But do we all have the same access to the fruits of our democracy? Today I want to talk with you about the difference between “equal” and “equitable.”

Imagine this picture: Three people are lined up before a gate to a government-owned apple tree. This apple tree is loaded with fruit, some on branches as low as 7 feet from the ground. One of the taxpayers is 6 feet tall. One is 4 feet tall. And the third is in a wheelchair.

The government wants to provide equal access to these apples to all three taxpayers. What does the government do?

The government could simply open the gate and say: “Go get your apples.” But clearly only the tall person would benefit in this scenario. Or the government could make ladders available to all three people. But then the person unable to climb a ladder, the person in the wheelchair, would miss out on getting any of the apples that their taxes have paid for.

Each of those solutions would be “equal, ”right? The government would be treating each personally equally. But neither solution is fair, because some taxpayers would not be able to access their benefits.

That’s where “equity” comes in. An equitable solution would ensure that the person in the wheelchair and the 4-foot person have as much access to their fair share of the apples as the six-foot person has. So in addition to providing a ladder so that the 4-foot person can climb up to reach the apples, maybe the government builds a ramp for the taxpayer who uses a wheelchair, or provides them with someone who can assist them by picking their apples for them.

On June 20, 2023, the Board of Island County Commissioners adopted Resolution C-34-23, the Island County Equity Statement:

Island County is committed to developing, nurturing, and sustaining an equitable workplace where everyone can thrive. We continue to build an organization that values, supports, and embraces diversity, while simultaneously fostering an inclusive and welcoming workforce and community.

We recognize that structural and systemic forms of oppression have and continue to reinforce harmful practices in our society. As we seek to acknowledge and dismantle these practices, we pledge to amplify the voices and provide opportunities to under-represented communities and those who were historically excluded, by removing barriers that result from racial, gender, and identity inequity and social injustice.

Our goal is for every employee and community member to feel they can thrive, are welcome, and belong. We strive to remove barriers and address the root causes of inequities. We focus on creating an inclusive environment, by listening and engaging with our employees and diverse communities. We work to ensure that equity is a cornerstone of our policies, procedures and practices. Island County’s commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion is unwavering.

I know that some people may be troubled that we claim in this statement that “structural and systemic forms of oppression have and continue to reinforce harmful practices in our society.” But you can think of “systemic forms of oppression” as the situation I gave above, when the government simply opens the gates and says “Go get your apples” without taking into account that some people face greater hurdles to access than others.

We in Island County saw this during COVID, when the data week after week showed us that residents who were not white were less likely to be vaccinated and had higher COVID case rates than our white residents. Clearly we were doing something wrong. Our intentions were good — Public Health and Emergency Management worked their butts off to make vaccines available — but our systemic response of just opening the gates and saying “Go get your vaccines” did not ensure inclusion to all citizens to these important taxpayer benefits. We had to take extra steps —for example, we worked with local churches to reach citizens who perhaps did not trust the government telling them “this is safe for you” but might be more trusting if that message came from their pastor.

When we say that “Island County’s commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion is unwavering” we mean that every single person gets access to the same government apples. Every single person belongs and should reap the same benefits. Everyone should enjoy the same inalienable rights of safety and happiness.

You should expect no less of your government.

Melanie Bacon is the Island County commissioner for District 1.