The Baltimore County Council this week agreed to spend more than $280,000 in COVID relief money on an 18-month equity assessment of county government that council members had questioned just one week earlier.

Sevetra Peoples-Brown, Baltimore County’s chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer, told the council the equity assessment will establish a baseline on how the county is doing and where it can improve equitable decision making.

Peoples-Brown said the contract includes help “developing a DEI strategic plan and providing training to staff based upon those findings.”

The cost of the equity study, which was requested by County Executive Johnny Olszewski’s administration, came under fire at a Feb. 13 meeting by council members who thought the money could be better used helping people directly.

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They complained that the DEI division is missing in action as they struggle to help people who are being left behind by the county.

“I have minority communities all over my district,” Democratic Councilman Mike Ertel said at the time. “I could use someone from DEI to help me navigate some of the programs that might be available to them. But we’re not seeing that. We talk about it, but there’s not a lot of action.”

A week later, the council had a change of heart and unanimously approved the contract.

“I started this whole conversation,” Ertel said. “It was a plea for help. It wasn’t against your department. We are happy that you’re here. We are happy that we’re doing this work.”

“I’m not sure that withholding the monies from this department is the right thing to do,” Democratic Councilman Julian Jones said.

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County Administrative Officer Stacy Rodgers told the council that the consultants can be a neutral party.

“There are things that we’re so close to work sometimes, we don’t even know what we don’t know,” Rodgers said.

WYPR is a media partner of The Baltimore Banner.