TAMPA — When Pinellas County unveiled an independent equity profile 14 months ago, organizers admitted surprise as 350 people showed up for the report’s release.
“There’s an appetite for change. There’s an appetite for taking these things seriously,’’ said Timothy Dutton, executive director of Unite Pinellas, which helped spearhead the study.
Now, Hillsborough County Commissioner Kimberly Overman wants to see if her county has a similar appetite. Wednesday, she will ask fellow board members to commission a similar study of racial inequity.
An independent review, Overman said, “gives us the greatest opportunity for removing our own bias to get an objective view of what we look like.
"I felt it was important the county makes a commitment to the community ... to take a look at how we’re making decisions.’’
In Pinellas, the profile came from the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity at the University of Southern California and PolicyLink, a national research firm, with aid from the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, United Way Suncoast, and the Juvenile Welfare Board. It looked at demographics, economics, education, health, crime and what it called "connectedness'' — like voting and civic participation — in assembling the profile.
The Pinellas report found black and Hispanic residents lagging behind white counterparts in income, education and other quality of life measures. The study also estimated Pinellas lost $3.6 billion in economic output because of racial gaps in income.
"There is a financial impact that we all pay because of poverty and this really expanded on that,'' said Pinellas Commissioner Ken Welch.
The study confirmed the county’s own earlier, internal data, Welch said that had led Pinellas to try expand opportunities for small companies to do business with county government. It also affirmed the city and county decision creating a community redevelopment district in south St. Petersburg in 2015.
The report’s findings also prompted some introspection and started the Pinellas Foundation to begin asking grant applicants "how their leadership, both the board and the staff, is reflective of the community as a whole, but also reflective of the people served by the organization,'' said Duggan Cooley, CEO of the foundation that distributes about $5 million annually.
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Part of the impetus for the report was Pinellas County’s changing demographics. In 2000, 83 percent of the county’s population was white and that number is projected to drop to 50 percent by 2050.
Welch called the equity profile "a Bible-like piece of work that you keep and build your policies around it.''
"Equity is beneficial to everyone,'' he said. "It empowers everyone in the community to be their best and be a contributor and I recommend it.''