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Chapel Hill to implement racial equity plan, give town employees raise

Maurice Jones, Chapel Hill town manager, speaks at a press conference Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. Town Manager Maurice Jones suggested a two-phase implementation combatting wage compression.

The Chapel Hill Town Council unanimously voted to pass the implementation of the Class & Compensation Study and the refined version of the OneOrange Countywide Racial Equity Framework, at its meeting last Wednesday.

The Town Council approved moving an additional $500,000 from fiscal year 2021's excess fund balance to bring all Town employees to new minimum salaries in order to address the Town of Chapel Hill’s longtime compression issues. 

Wage compression is when employees who have held a job longer are paid less than new hires. 

The Town initiated the Classification & Compensation Study two years ago and presented the results to the council on Jan. 12, 2022. The Town of Chapel Hill's staff salary ranges were 8 to 9.9 percent below benchmark agencies.

Following the results of the study, the Town will establish new pay grades, placing employees in those grades based on the results of the study.

Town Manager Maurice Jones said that the staff recommends a two-part implementation process. During phase one, the Town will move 277 employees to the new minimum, and during the second phase, they will reduce compression issues by raising the salaries of long-time employees.

“I fully and wholeheartedly support raising the salaries of staff, not only to keep us competitive but also to recognize all their hard work and their professionalism,” Council Member Amy Ryan said.

Council Member Camille Berry said that this is an opportunity for the council to use the funding that they do have, particularly because staff have been working with limited resources due to a hiring freeze that was implemented after the pandemic began.

“We do need to act with what we have, and there is no reason we should not prioritize our staff,” Berry said.

Revised Racial Equity Plan

The OneOrange Countywide Racial Equity Plan: A Framework for Moving Forward states that it was developed to address biases within Orange County institutions and ensure that race can no longer be used to predict life outcomes in the Chapel Hill community.

The Orange County Board of Commissioners received the Orange County Racial Equity Plan in June. 

Since then, the OneOrange staff team has organized community outreach events, shared a draft plan with the community and received community feedback. The OneOrange team utilized this feedback to refine the Racial Equity Plan.

Shenekia Weeks, Chapel Hill’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officer presented the plan at the Jan. 26 meeting. Weeks talked about community outreach that is already taking place, such as a feedback-informed targeted outreach survey and an annual Toy Chest drive that provides toys for children from low-income families during the holidays.

“I think this is really important work, and it deserves visibility from the council and from our public at large,” Council Member Michael Parker said.

To better understand the community's attitude toward the Countywide Racial Equity Framework, the survey asked an open-ended question about hopes and fears, Weeks said.

“Respondents hope for community, change, people being treated fairly, unity and peace," Weeks said. "And they fear a lack of action, that the initiative will fail and that there may be increased racial tension and violence."

Already, the plan has begun to be implemented with some Town staff with racial equity trainings, a Wellness Lunch & Learn on Medical Microaggressions and a Black History Lunch & Learn series.

Moving forward, the plan intends to continue collaboration with the Town to develop a racialized history of the Town, which would mean an acknowledgment of how government policies have historically contributed to racial disparities in the community, Weeks said.

Council Member Paris Miller-Foushee spoke about acknowledging the makeup of Chapel Hill's board and commissions as well and asked about how to extend opportunities within them.

“If we are not creating opportunities in diversity and inclusion within our boards and commissions, what does that mean as it pertains to overall leadership within our town?" Miller-Foushee asked.

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