Naperville council tables vote on employee DEI training after proposal questions arise

In a split vote, the Naperville City Council tabled plans this week to hire a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant to work with city staff due to concerns over the value and scope of the initiative.

Chicago-based Envisioning Equity Work had been chosen by staff for the training job over more than a dozen other vendors following a months-long selection process. The two-year contract was not to exceed $115,470.

But Tuesday night a handful of concerns were raised over the longevity of Envisioning Equity Work’s two-year training program and whether there was a way to measure the impact of the services provided. Council members vote 5-4 to table the matter until their April 16 meeting.

Over the next month, city staff will go back to Envisioning Equity to address the qualms in an effort to return with a more detailed plan.

Naperville has been heightening its DEI focus over the past few years, with the council in 2019 voting to expand the city’s mission statement to include language addressing inclusivity and diversity. A few months later, in May 2020, the council adopted a resolution denouncing racism, intolerance and unlawful discrimination. And by February 2021, the city had hired its first DEI manager, Geneace Williams.

In a call Friday, Williams said DEI training “fits right in” with the city’s goal to further its core values and gives employees “further tools in working for an organization that is diverse with respect to staff.”

The council allocated $60,000 in its 2024 budget for DEI-related initiatives, with additional costs to be covered in future budgets, Williams said.

The consultant services proposed Tuesday called for staff to participate in one of two educational courses: the first for supervisors and managers dealing with leadership issues and the other for employees. Williams said council, board and commission members would be able to attend as well.

The search for training consultants began in August with a request for proposals. Fifteen firms submitted plans that were reviewed and scored by a selection team on such factors as capabilities and quality of approach.

Three finalists were interviewed before a top vendor was chosen. Envisioning Equity received a score of 93.8, 17 points higher than the second-place applicant.

Still, council members weren’t entirely sold Tuesday.

Originally included on the consent agenda, the contract was pulled from the list for further discussion.

Kicking off dialogue, Councilman Josh McBroom said he had a “long list of concerns approving this expenditure,” chief among them that he didn’t think it was a “measurable taxpayer investment.”

“I have a fundamental issue with not being able to measure, in dollars, the return the taxpayer receives,” McBroom said. “Some may be OK with that. That we have a program that we really cannot measure ever.”

Councilman Nate Wilson echoed McBroom, noting that he’d rather support projects with measurable results — roadwork, for example.

Other pushback wasn’t so much a question of efficacy but contract terms.

Councilwoman Jennifer Bruzan Taylor said she was supportive of DEI training but not necessarily through what was on the table Tuesday. A sticking point for her, she said, was ownership.

The contract under consideration called for the city to receive two years of consulting services but Envisioning Equity would retain control of training materials and produced content, according to Williams.

As a result, Taylor said, training would, in effect, be a continued expense past the initial contract.

Mayor Scott Wehrli, raising a similar concern, described it as a “vaccination approach.”

“Anybody who’s not in the room for that training didn’t get the training. So how do we deliver the training … as new employees are on-boarded” or for anyone who wasn’t able to attend, he said.

There is room to negotiate a licensing fee with the company, Williams said, but staff does not know the cost. The city also could have the vendor train a few employees to teach courses once the contract expires. Council members requested more information on both options.

Despite the issues raised, almost half of the council remained supportive of approving the contract Tuesday night.

Councilman Patrick Kelly lauded the training as an investment “in our people.” Councilman Benny White said DEI is a sustainability issue.

“If we as a community can’t acknowledge each other, have training (and) do things that allow us to grow as a community,” White said, “we’re not going to be able to sustain ourselves.”

Both Kelly and Councilman Ian Holzhauer tried to put forward separate motions to proceed with awarding a contract but were unsuccessful.

Williams said staff will come back with answers and options on April 16.