At a time when city governments around the state and nation are embracing diversity, equity and inclusion programs — often known as DEI — to improve their ability to serve their communities and their employees, the Municipal Association’s Annual Meeting
will host a session explaining how these efforts work and why they matter. The Annual Meeting will take place July 14 – 17 in Charleston.
Kelvin Waites, who joined the City of Myrtle Beach
as its first director of diversity, equity and inclusion in January, will speak at the session.
Kelvin Waites is Myrtle Beach’s director of diversity, equity
and inclusion. Photo: City of Myrtle Beach.
“As one of the fastest-growing metropolitan statistical areas in the county, we have people from all over, with all different backgrounds come to our city,” said Myrtle Beach City Manager Jonathan “Fox” Simons, discussing the purpose of the DEI position. “We want to be an organization that is reflective of our community, and one where folks feel their voices are being heard. We want our team members to be representative of our community.”
Before joining the City of Myrtle Beach, Waites acquired decades of law enforcement experience, including his most recent position as the chief of the Georgetown Police Department. He also served in the U.S. Army. Waites said this background helped build the communication and organizational skills for his newest job, which he described as “the opportunity of a lifetime.”
In describing the function of the job, Waites notes that “diversity” often leads people to think of racial identity, but that the concept is much more expansive.
“There’s age, there’s gender, there’s sexual preference, sexual identity, there’s veteran status, there’s disability. There’s so many different things that go along with being diverse,” he said.
Equity, Waites said, is often confused with equality.
“Equality is exactly what it says — everyone has got the same tools in their hands, we’re passing those tools out. Equity is making sure everyone has the tools that they need in order to be successful,” he said. “As leaders, we are challenged and tasked with making sure that we find a way for every employee to be successful, because if they win, we win. When we win, the community wins.”
In explaining inclusion, he said that he has often heard the argument that a given organization is inclusive because everyone “has a voice,” but he likes to ask if the voices are actually being heard. Waites will demonstrate this by covering his mouth with his hand and muffling his words — the voice is present, but it has no meaning.
Since starting in his position, Waites has worked at developing assessments and surveys to identify gaps and challenges in Myrtle Beach’s diversity efforts. He has also built a committee for the purpose, asking each city department head to nominate a department representative to serve on it.
In explaining to a city official who is unfamiliar with DEI programs why they might need one, Waites noted that “looking at things through a DEI lens gives you the opportunity to do better, and be better, as it relates to your workforce.”
“Everybody wants to be a reflection of the community that they serve,” he said. “But in addition to that, from an ‘equitable’ lens — are your employees having a positive experience at work? If the answer is ‘no,’ then we have work to do.”
Simons said that achieving the city’s diversity goal, “there has to be some hard conversations, and we need someone with Kelvin’s skills to lead those discussions and guide us. Because at the end of the day, organizations that embrace DEI as a culture are much more likely to be successful.”
The DEI session during the Annual Meeting will be one of several concurrent sessions taking place on July 14 and 15. Here are the others:
- Policing and the Reform Movement: What Councils Need to Know – The SC General Assembly and the U.S. Congress have considered legislation that affects high-risk, critical tasks in law enforcement. This session will cover these critical tasks and what officials need to know about managing the risks associated with law enforcement.
- Keeping the Party Safe (geared toward cities with populations of 20,000 and above) – Learn how the City of Columbia established a Hospitality District Task Force to keep visitors in entertainment districts safe.
- Economic Development (geared toward cities and towns with populations of 5,000 to 20,000) – What are the tools, law changes, and knowledge that small-to-medium-sized cities and towns need to succeed in economic development?
- Police Reform and Incivility (geared toward towns with populations of less than 5,000) – The issues of police reform and incivility are affecting small cities and towns everywhere. Learn about these issues and ways to minimize disruptions.
- Social Media Pointers and Pitfalls for Elected Officials – Explore the legal issues of using both official and personal social media accounts, and learn how to use social media effectively.
- Five Questions to Ask Your Business Licensing Officials – Learn the five questions elected officials should ask their business licensing staff to find out if their city or town is complying with the SC Business License Tax Standardization Act
- Do You Really Need to Leave the Room? Conflicts of Interest and Recusals – Learn about recent economic interest rulings from the SC Ethics Commission.
- The SC Election Commission’s Role in Municipal Elections – Get resources for answering questions about election integrity, and learn about the commission’s plans for promoting municipal elections in 2023.
Find more details and agenda information about the Annual Meeting online and by downloading the Association’s app from the App Store or Google Play by searching for “Municipal Association of SC.” All hotel reservations must be complete by June 13 and all registrations must be complete by July 1.