The Stanly News and Press did an article on Monday about a lack of diversity on our county boards and commissions. The article came about as a follow-up to a comment from Commissioner Lawhon in our last board meeting about needing to stop appointing “good old boys” and friends to boards.
Chris Miller, the author of the article, emailed me for a comment and was kind enough to include my words in his article. He actually didn’t really hit on the point that I think the commissioner was making, but he still hit on a point that I think resonates in our community. And let’s be honest, even if racial or gender diversity isn’t resonating at the moment, as soon as you put it in the newspaper it certainly will start to do so.
The article is about board diversity which is a word I hate because it can mean different things to different people. If you say diversity to a republican, it usually just means diverse people, as in different people, as in not the same people. If you say diversity to a democratically-leaning individual, it usually resonates as some sort of balance between either genders, races, ages, or some other metric. This article is a good example of that.
I personally think Commissioner Lawhon meant “we need to stop putting the same individuals on multiple boards.” In diversifying, he was referring to having different people instead of having one person filling two or three seats on county boards. That too is my personal belief. Wherever possible, if someone already sits on one board and if there are other volunteers for the next board appointment, as long as those people are qualified, we shouldn’t put a person that’s already on a board on another one.
However, regardless of what Commissioner Lawhon or myself might think, the article that came out was on “diversity” as written from the more liberal meaning.
I’ll briefly cover the points the article made in bullet form to make it simple for my follow-comparison further down. Again, you can read it here if you’d like.
The article points out that our boards are structured as follows:
- We have 16 boards. Using my math we actually have 20, but I don’t have his numbers handy so we’ll just keep the number at 16 for the point of his math.
- 1 in 5 people are minorities.
- The population is 50.1% female, however women have a 40% or higher presence on only 38% of our boards.
- County boards have 91 white men, 54 white women, and only 10 minorities total. To break that math down, it tells me the following:
- There are 155 people in total on these 16 boards.
- 59% are white males.
- 35% are white females
- 10% are minorities
The consensus among some readers, in fact the only one the reader can make with those numbers in my opinion, is that Stanly County’s boards and committees are basically run by old, white, men.
Whose fault is that?
This is where MY point of view comes in, OK? Personally, I don’t think there’s a fault to be had. My claim has always been that it’s a matter of people not applying for the boards. Ever since I first became a commissioner and was assigned to my own boards I serve on I’ve commented at the amount of empty seats on boards. When I asked about it, the chair of one of my boards laughed in my face and said “good luck! We’ve been trying to fill those seats since this board was started and no one will volunteer.” I was amazed. I really didn’t think that would be an issue. Well, turns out it is!
The social media comments that followed up the SNAP article (you can read the FB post here) didn’t get a lot of traction but what traction it did receive started off exactly how I thought it would. There was an assumption that the county doesn’t do enough, or that the county needs to do more, or that it’s a bunch of old white men that don’t want to appoint a woman or a black man to a board.
Rather than argue, I decided to do my own research. Being a commissioner does have its benefits after all, right? So I called the county manager’s office and asked Miss Tyler if she could compile a list of all the applications for every board and every committee over the last two years, and get me some demographic information based on those applications. Keep in mind, she has to literally go through paper applications and tabulate this by hand, so she’s owed a huge debt of thanks for working that into her already-busy schedule, especially since she managed to pull it all together for me in less than 24 hours! I also owe Chris Miller a debt of thanks. Since I knew he’d already done the leg work to figure out the percentages on each board, he was kind enough to share that with me so I could see his raw numbers instead of having to call every board director myself and go through every name!
So what do the numbers show? Let’s take a look and you can decide for youself. Because either I’m right and the problem is a lot of apathy from a lot of people that just don’t care yet pretend to on social media, or else it actually IS a conspiracy to keep minorities and women from holding positions on boards. One of the two is most likely true, wouldn’t you agree?
Let’s look at the numbers as a whole for who applied to boards in the last two years.
Ok, well that’s pretty telling. Let’s break it down into percentages for each of those demographics.
Now let’s look at applicants by ethnicity
Now let’s review those numbers by age.
What the numbers say
I keep hearing, and I’ve even said it myself, that Stanly County is run by a bunch of old white men. It’s not a slur. It’s just the truth. But, look at who applies to be part of the process:
- Old: 66% of all board applications are people over 50.
- White: 97% of those that apply for positions are white.
- Men: 68% of those that apply for positions are men.
You want to know why it appears that Stanly County is predominantly represented by old white dudes? Umm… cuz they’re the ones that apply.
How to the active positions stack up against the applications?
The only way I know to do this is board by board one at a time, cross-referencing as I go, so let’s see:
There was only one white male to apply for the board, which means there wasn’t anyone else to possibly appoint.
There are 5 white males on that board currently. In the last two years 8 other white males applied.
Board of Adjustment
One white male has applied. No women have applied for the board. This board is 33% women, and 100% white. But no one else has applied for it…
Consolidated Health & Human Services Board
This board is about to change because I’ve gone out and aggressively sought to fill it. I serve on this board, so I know what it’s missing. Even that has taken months of phone calls and social media posting to get the response I’ve received so far. I will be nominating four new members in the July commissioner’s meeting. For the record, all are white (I think. I’ve never met three of the four in person). Two are men and two are women. But there have been no other applicants, just in case anyone’s curious.
Economic Development Commission
This board has zero minority representation. Why? No one has applied for it. The county can’t appoint people who haven’t asked…
Equalization and Review Board
This is another with very little women or minority representation. However, in the last two years only one woman has applied and zero minorities at all.
Home Care Community Block Grant Board
I’m starting to see a pattern here. For the most part, the board are reflecting exactly who’s applying.
Here again we see playing out exactly what I figured. The board is 33% female, though 75% of applicants are male. There’s no conspiracy. It’s just lack of interest from the general public.
Juvenile Crime and Prevention Council
This is one of the boards with a larger diversity than is represented in applications, which I think is a positive thing, but if you want to keep the minority presence, more minorities are going to have to apply for positions when they open up. If only white males keep applying, once board terms expire the only people to replace them with will be white males.
Library Board of Trustees
This is another where the percentage of women is markedly higher, yet that’s solely due to the fact that women are applying 500% more than men. The only reason there is even ONE male on that board is because they’re required to have a county commissioner on the board and those are currently all male.
Nursing Homes Community Advisory Committee
Again, the board as it sits pretty accurately reflects the demographics of the applicants.
Senior Services Advisory Board
SCC Board of Trustees
Stanly Water and Sewer Authority
Transportation Advisory Board
Applied vs Serving
Let’s recap the numbers from the article about what we actually have serving with what we actually have applying.
Note: I didn’t ask for the numbers to specifically categorize race AND gender separately, so the figures for applicants are calculated based on the only possible numbers using the data shown up top. (There were only 5 minority applicants total in 2.5 years so its easy to extrapolate what range is possible.)
Overall, the numbers of people serving on boards almost EXACTLY matches what’s applying for boards, within literally about 5% deviation either way.
There is literally only one conclusion I can come up with. The distribution of the appointed boards in Stanly County are a direct, almost 100% identical match to the demographics of people applying for these positions.
Is this a problem for Stanly?
That’s a discussion that’s up to you, the reader and the voter, to decide. If you think we need more diversity on the boards that govern our various agencies within Stanly County, I can only encourage you to get people to sign up! The process it entirely painless. If you read this article, you have the technological means to volunteer at your fingertips. In fact if you read this ENTIRE article, you’ve already spent more time than the application would have taken you.
These are volunteer positions. They require volunteers! If only one particular demographic applies and the seat becomes vacant, we are always going to fill the seats with the applicants we have on-hand.
If you want to know more about what boards exist:
Visit the county website and click on boards, or just follow this link:
If you want an easy way to apply
There are a couple ways. Most of them are simple and don’t even involve leaving your home or office.
- Fill out the application on the website. (Or just click here)
- Call the county manager’s office and someone can take that same information over the phone. 704-986-3600.
- Stop by the County Offices on 1st St at the commons and apply in-person.
I’m sorry this was a long article, but a lot of research from a lot of people went into putting it together, not to mention about five hours to write it and get it formatted.
We (everyone) get tied up really emotionally in conversations about diversity and we’re quick to lay blame, whether its warranted or not, because of issues going on elsewhere. Often we don’t take the time and expend the energy it takes to find the facts ourselves because it’s just to much easier to be pissed off based on what someone else said than it is to verify that it’s truth.
My thoughts on diversity, specific to Stanly County.
I’ll never be one to say we don’t need more diversity. I am both a Republican and a Commissioner. Both are things I am actively engaged with the public about. And anyone that’s heard me speak at functions, at conventions, or even around town has heard me say quite often that it’s very true that Stanly County is run by a bunch of “old white men.”
The problem, as I see it, is that everyone that’s NOT an old white male seems to assume it’s a massive conspiracy to keep XYZ demographic under-represented when in fact it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy as long as people don’t step up and ask to serve. If only white males over 50 apply for a board position, or run for office, then only white males over 50 are going to get appointed. And I speak to you as a representative from a board comprised 100% of white males.
But let me be clear on this… crystal clear. This is only my opinion, but it’s one I stand behind and it’s one people voted for me on. I believe you elect the best person for the job regardless of race, skin-color, gender, sexual orientation, or disability. Period. If it were up to me, we’d remove race and gender from the applications. (I’m guessing we can’t because we have to be able to use those criteria for the exact reason I did tonight…we have to know about race so we can be sure it’s not about race. It’s a stupid catch-22.)
If an appointment came up for a board.. let’s say it’s the fictional board of carpenters, and there were two white male carpenter’s apprentices, one white male master carpenter, and one black female school teacher…. I wouldn’t vote to put that school teacher on that board just to satisfy someone’s ideological desire for diversity. It’s a board of carpenters, so I’d personally vote for any of the three in the carpentry field. If there were already two old master carpenters on that board, I’d vote for one of the younger apprentices because in my mind, they’d bring new technological skills to the board that already had enough old-school carpenters on it’s makeup.
I hope I’ve cleared up some of the controversy surrounding this topic, at least for the moment. If you would like to discuss it, feel free to do so here on the website in the comment’s section, or on Facebook in the comment’s section. I’ll try to reply to both as often as possible. As always, you can call or email me and I’ll get back to you as quick as I can.
Thanks for your time,
Excellent, Tommy! Thanks for taking the time to inform us!
Tommy, thanks for taking the time to collect and present these facts. This tells the story very well.