La Crosse County Board decides racism as health crisis, proposes resolutions

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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — The La Crosse County Board passed a resolution nearly unanimously Tuesday declaring “Racism as a Public Health Crisis,” including several actions to enable the resolution.
Passed 28-0, with one abstention, the measure confirmed a resolution passed at the board’s Health & Human Services Board last week.
Board member Rick Cornforth, noting that such resolutions are increasing throughout the state and the country, said, “This is our time. Too many have waited too long, lost hope and some have lost their lives.”
Cornforth described the resolution as “an important step in the movement to racial equality.”
During discussion of the resolution’s merits, board member Kim Cable said, “I find it ironic that we are a board of white people discussing this systemic racism. We certainly should, and we should listen to those people of color.”
Cable pressed to pass the resolution “to take this step to start addressing … the very important needs in our community.”
Similarly, board member Karen Keil reflected on her experience at a La Crosse rally last week for Daunte Wright, who died at the hands of police in Brooklyn Center, Minn. Hearing local people of color talk about their encounters with racism was eye-opening, she said.
“Listening to people who walk a mile in those shoes every day, they are exhausted,” Keil said.
Cornforth, who proposed the resolution, said racism extends beyond slurs to permeate education, health, commerce and law enforcement, among other factors.
“This resolution is nonpartisan created purposely because all Americans are negatively impacted by racism,” Cornforth said, adding, “It is meant to bring minority groups to the table.”
Board member John Pogreba told of his discussions with his black brother-in-law in Milwaukee, which passed the first such resolution in 2019.
“His situation being a Black … it’s very troubling that he (encountered) racism,” Pogreba said.
Board member Maureen Freedland lauded the measure, saying, “The resolution will place racial equity as a core element of all county decisions.”
Board Chairwoman Monica Kruse described it as a “very important first step … now the real work begins.”
The resolution calls on the board to, among other things:

  • “Conduct an assessment of internal policies and procedures to ensure racial equity is a core element of La Crosse County.”
  • Work to create an equity and justice-oriented organization … to increase diversity and incorporate anti-racism principles across La Crosse County leadership, employees, staffing and contracting.
  • Promote “educational efforts to address and dismantle racism, expand employees’ understanding of racism, and how racism affects individual and population health, and provide everyone with tools to assist everyone to engage actively and authentically with communities of color.”
  • Advocate policies to improve health in communities of color and support initiatives on all governmental levels to advance social justice.
  • Build alliances and partnerships with organizations that confront racism and encourage other local, state and national groups to recognize racism as a public health crisis.

Kevin Hoyer, who abstained from voting, expressed concern that the resolution promises that the board will “allocate adequate financial and human resources to accomplish needed activities.”
That seems to run contrary to a notation stating that there would be “no fiscal cost to La Crosse County,” Hoyer said, wondering whether the resolution would give efforts “a blank check.”
County Administrator Steve O’Malley responded that any actions will be assessed and Kruse promised that no actions would get a blank check because all would be subject to board approval.

The resolution (copy and paste into your browser): file:///C:/Users/002/Pictures/Obit%20pix/4-15.pdf