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Conference Recap
By Madison Rorschach and Virginia Garcia

The 2019 Kansas City ALGA Conference had a different vibe and the anecdotal feedback we received about the conference was excellent. ALGA leadership, the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee (DEI), and member services worked together all year to create a more diverse and inclusive conference. After one year of existence, the DEI Committee proposed several changes to the Conference Committee and member services to create a more welcoming conference, which they embraced. 
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Some initiatives occurred during the conference, but others were subtler, including asking whether you were interested in moderating a session when you registered for the conference, because moderating a session is a gateway to speaking at concurrent sessions. We received over 60 responses from individuals interested in moderating a session and captured a pool of new and interested moderators and potential speakers. In addition, all our speakers and moderators were asked to self-identify earlier in the process, allowing us to increase the response rate of the survey over last year’s response rate by about 33 percent. Increasing this response rate helped to deepen our understanding of the depth of diversity ALGA provides and the work we still need to do.

In this coming year, the Conference Committee and DEI Committee is committed to continue creating conferences where all feel welcome and empowered to learn and grow. Other initiatives you may have noticed at the conference include the following sections:


DEI SOCIAL

Sunday night, Conference Chair Pam Weipert invited first time attendees to attend the welcome social early to meet to Board members and ALGA Committee chairs, which gave them an exclusive opportunity to ask questions and learn more about ALGA. Then, all ALGA members came together for a fun social. For this social, the DEI Committee put together an icebreaker designed to encourage people to mingle and to highlight the diversity within ALGA’s community. Participants in the icebreaker were entered for a chance to win an ALGA hat. We’d like to congratulate Cornelia Louis of Dekalb County, GA; Lawrence Davis of the City of Albuquerque, NM; and Yzalida Hiley of the City of Dallas, TX for winning the drawing and thank them for participating in the DEI icebreaker.

A few thoughts from the attendees include:

  • “It forced us not to stay in our corners and forced us out of our comfort zone to go meet and talk to people. Especially out of our region.”
  • “As a first-time attendee, I felt welcomed and I can’t wait to come back.”
  • “I think it’s really great that we are talking about DEI openly and trying to understand our profession’s role in responding.”
  • “This was the first ALGA conference that I felt like I belonged. I truly felt welcomed and included.”


TRADITIONAL TERRITORIES AND PEOPLE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

ALGA President Kristine Adams-Wannberg set the tone at the start of the conference by paying respect and recognition to the traditional territories of the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kansa, Kiowa, Osage, Pawnee, and Wichita people that are indigenous inhabitants of present day Kansas, whose home was where the conference was held; a tradition, we hope, to carry on to future conferences.


FAST SESSION

Just before lunch on Monday, conference attendees heard a brief summary of all the excellent work ALGA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee has completed in its first year from the Committee chair Virginia Garcia. In addition, the FAST session highlighted four ground-breaking and impactful audits covering topics including paratransit, homeless assistance, organizational diversity, and traffic stops. These presentations were particularly powerful thanks to ALGA members’ personal accounts about their experiences with these topics. We would like to take the time to thank these members for sharing their experiences.

A few thoughts about the FAST session from attendees include:

  • “I think that as auditors we should be comfortable, willing, and able to have uncomfortable conversations. Nowhere is this more necessary than with DEI.”
  • “The FAST session had me in tears, it really touched me in ways I didn’t imagine.”
  • “I have never been so moved by a session; this was the best session I have been to in my life.”
  • “I planned conferences for 7 years and attended many others, and this was the best session I have attended.”


CONCURRENT SESSION


Tuesday afternoon, members of the DEI Committee presented strategies to integrate race and social justice into audit work. The City of Seattle and King County, Washington have each developed their own equity tools. These tools guide auditors through a series of questions to identify any diversity, equity, or inclusion areas that could be audited. After presenting these tools and discussing why they are valuable, the presenters asked for feedback that could be incorporated into the DEI tool that ALGA is developing as a guide for audit shops interested in implementing their own tool.

Some of the feedback included:

  • “It would be nice if there were a menu of suggested audit steps to take during survey and fieldwork.”
  • “Can there be an easy way to find reports on audits related to DEI?”
  • “Consideration of anticipated benefits and outcomes for local governments and communities would be helpful when talking with decision-makers about the benefits to them and their constituents.”
  • “How can ALGA’s tool incorporate a step to ensure the audit team challenges each other, such as helping each other see their own blinders?”

If you have any questions or feedback about the DEI tool being developed by the Committee, please contact the Committee Chair Virginia Garcia.


GENDER NEUTRAL BATHROOMS AND PRONOUN SHARING

The DEI Committee worked to make this annual conference as inclusive as possible. Specifically, ALGA was able to provide a gender-neutral bathroom to attendees, allowing people of all genders and presentation to feel safe and seen throughout the conference. Similarly, attendees were asked to share their gender pronouns on their name tag using a pronoun sticker. Many conference attendees chose to share their pronouns this way, creating a friendlier environment for everyone. The DEI Committee is committed to making these permanent changes to future ALGA conferences.

Thank you to everyone who helped make this conference possible including Pam Weipert, Kristine Adams-Wannberg, and Kymber Waltmunson. In particular, I’d like to thank the members of the DEI Committee for all of their hard work, not only at the conference, but also within the organization itself. They include:

  • Virginia Garcia, Chair
  • Jamie Amos, Vice Chair
  • Alyassia Taylor
  • April Jordan
  • David Givans
  • Diana Lynn
  • Jay Poole
  • Jennifer McGuirk
  • Megan Ko
  • Nia Young
  • Van Lee

Here’s to another great year!


ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Madison Rorschach is a Staff Auditor at the City of Denton, TX. She became a Certified Internal Auditor in 2017 and has been a part of two Knighton Award-winning audits in just three years. Currently a member of ALGA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, Madison believes local government auditing is key to protecting the public’s interest. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Texas A&M University and enjoys regression analysis more than any person should.

Virginia Garcia is an Assistant City Auditor with the Seattle Office of City Auditor. Her audits have focused on civil rights, labor standards, and affordable housing, three of which earned ALGA’s Knighton Awards while she was auditor-in-charge. Virginia is ALGA’s first chair of its new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee and serves on her office’s Race and Social Justice team. She began her career with the General Accounting Office in Washington D.C., then worked at the City of Seattle in analyst and management positions, before operating a consulting firm contracting with municipal and non-profit organizations. Virginia has a BA in Political Science from UC Santa Barbara and an MA in Public Administration from the University of Washington. She is committed to serving her community and is currently a scholarship application reader and mentor for organizations supporting aspiring and current university students.