Town’s P.R. machine on Council hot seat | News

By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor
6 Min Read

Gilbert Town Council is scheduled Tuesday to discuss the Office of Digital Government’s scope, mission, public messaging, posts, funding and even its name.

All town messaging funnels through this department, which is under scrutiny following public accusations that it spied on employees’ social media posts and went after those that didn’t express a “liberal” viewpoint. The item is on the council study session, which does not allow for public comments.

“What they are doing is trying to get everything through a particular lens,” said Councilman Jim Torgeson, who’s leading the charge to delve into the department. “They want the lens to be a woke, DEI lens.”

Critics claim that DEI – or diversity, equity, and inclusion – initiatives comprise reverse discrimination against white men.

“I would say it’s definitely impacting the culture,” Torgeson said, “because there is a form of discrimination now going on.”

He pointed to former Gilbert firefighter Steve LaValle’s comments at a February council meeting where he accused HR and Fire administrators of telling firefighters preparing to interview potential candidates that “the Town of Gilbert (is) not looking for people who look like you.” LaValle went on to question the town’s hiring practices.

HR Dive cited a 2020 survey that found that 52% of hiring managers who work for a company with a DEI initiative say “they believe the company practices reverse discrimination in hiring.”

Over 1,000 hiring managers were surveyed and 873 worked for companies with a DEI initiative.

The results showed “about one in six say they’ve been told to deprioritize white men when evaluating job candidates.”

But they also showed “60% strongly believed the initiatives have improved their company,” according to HR Dive, a news and analysis resource for those in the industry.

Torgeson said he’s recently discovered that DEI is more pervasive in town government via a copy of a meeting video of Gilbert’s DEI Team leaked to him.

The video shows nine town employees, including members of the HR staff. Togeson did not know when that meeting took place.

“I’m totally OK with people feeling like it’s being shoved down their throat,” an employee said in the video. “It’s an education component.”

She compared DEI training to students who didn’t want multiplication tables or flash cards while in school but got them anyways.

“I’m a Black woman who do not celebrate Kwanzaa,” the employee continued. “My in-laws do. They have the whole little table set up. I didn’t really know a lot about it so I took it from an educational component.

“It had nothing to do with race in my brain. I learned where it came from and oh, OK it makes sense. So it can be something so small that it’s one little educational tip that happens to diversify your knowledge base. You learn from it whether you like it or not so shove it down their throat. I’m good with that.”

A few employees chucked at her comment.

Torgeson said that he planned to ask Town Manager Patrick Banger about the video and have him “explain to me why that is an acceptable position of staff.”

“Is that what we are operating under here?” Torgeson said. “I have to ask Patrick why is this OK. This doesn’t seem OK to me.

“We need to take a look at these practices and make sure we’re not going to ‘shove it down their throat.’”

That video, however, was addressed by an outside law firm in 2021.

“While there were certain comments made by DEI members at the meetings that appear troubling on the surface, it was clear from the videos that those comments were made in a joking manner and not serious viewpoints of DEI members,” said the report by Pierce Coleman.

“These comments were directed at Town employees who were not receptive to DEI ideas, such as saying ‘sometimes it is okay to shove it down people’s throats,’ or that they would ‘like to rub it in that person’s face.’

“Despite the tongue-in-cheek context, these comments were always outwardly rejected by the group as a whole.”

Piece Coleman was brought in to investigate allegations that the town “unfairly and improperly supports certain politic viewpoints over others in its official town communications.” The report cleared the town of all allegations.

The public’s condemnation over ODG’s perceived control of employees’ freedom of speech resulted in the chief digital officer resigning earlier this month.

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By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor , – Vivrr Local Results in news of type article , 2024-04-02 07:00:00
Tags: gilbert top news, gilbert town council news, gilbert town council dei discussion, dei initiatives in gilbert town council, gilbert hot news, gilbert town council pr

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