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County Executive Report for June 23, 2020

County Executive Report for June 23, 2020

This is the County Executive Report Sam gave at the County Council meeting on June 23, 2020. You are welcome to attend County Council meetings, which are currently conducted by webinar; they are open to the public and feature time for public comment. You can find information on the next meeting and dial-in information in the events section at www.stlouisco.com.

Thank you, Lisa, and good evening everyone – 

This is a historic time.

We are in an environment that shifts dramatically by the day.

Change is necessary. Change is long past due.

I was asked by a reporter last week: “What is the biggest challenge facing St. Louis County?”

Systemic racism. It’s as simple and complex as that.

We see it play out in various forms, but it’s at the root of all the fundamental flaws of our community and our country.

As the COVID-19 crisis began making its way through our communities, we saw how it disproportionately impacted African Americans. Generations of discrimination left many of our residents without easy access to healthcare, access to health insurance, access to affordable, healthy food. Access to a quality education.

On top of the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd sent people into the streets -- angry, scared, demanding justice. A civil rights movement that has highlighted once again that we are a divided country that has let the status quo hover for too long.

We are seeing changes. Voices are being heard.

But acknowledging systemic racism is only the beginning. We have to all work together to end it

As county executive, I’ve insisted that all policy decisions be made through a lens of equity, and that diverse voices are at the table when we make those decisions.

In our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I said funds from the federal grant we received would go to those who need it the most. And that is what is happening. We are working with public health experts, the Brown School at Washington University and dozens of community partners to make sure our response is the right one, reaching the most vulnerable and those historically underserved.

My commitment is to do all I can to change the course of this country to one that truly is a place where there is justice for all, equal opportunity for all.

But I can’t do it alone. Government can’t do it alone. I’m calling on corporate leaders, faith-based groups, community service clubs and schools to be all-in when it comes to change.  

A response to a pandemic should not be political.

A response to systemic racism should not be political. 

Let’s all work with those who have been left behind and make sure they are at the table as we chart a path forward.

When I became county executive in April 2019, our boards and commissions were 23 percent minority and 38 percent female. Today, 41 percent of our members are minorities and 58 percent female.

Our boards and commissions, which help shape our policy and guide our decision-making, must look like our community to ensure conversations are robust and meaningful and representative of St. Louis County.

Juneteenth events were held around the country this past weekend, including here.  It’s heartening to see more people – more white people – engaged in learning the chapters of history conveniently left out of some classrooms. We have to know our complete history, not just the parts that are easy to teach. Otherwise, we cannot truly believe the future will be any different than the present.

As I often say when talking about the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all in this together.  To successfully curb the virus, we all must social distance, stay home when sick, wear masks and wash our hands regularly.

No one can be the exception in this battle to prevent more sickness and death in our community. 

And no one can be an exception in our fight to end systemic racism. 

As communities across the country weigh whether to remove statues, or rename streets, those same conversations are going on here.

Last week, I asked Hazel Erby, our director of diversity, equity and inclusion, to work with our parks department and our public works and transportation department to review names of roads, parks and statues countywide.

We must address this in a thoughtful and organized way. I don’t think we should be looking at these one at a time when someone brings it to our attention.

The intent of the review is to make sure the names are in line with the county’s values of equity and inclusion. 

The symbols that define our community should not be symbols that divide our community. 

We must not let this moment fade into inaction. Let’s seize this opportunity to respect differences. To speak up, and to listen. To admit changes are necessary and work together to make those changes.

That’s all for now. Thanks, Lisa.

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