Language found in a Springfield City Council bill eliminates pronouns like "his" and "her" in favor of gender-neutral pronouns or specific terms for the person named in human resources policies. (Illustration by Rance Burger)

The Springfield City Council held the first reading of a bill to update the city’s ordinance that governs employee merit, vacation and sick leave policies. Some of the changes are considered “routine,” but some significant changes are in the bill language in the name of gender equity and inclusion.

“The Merit Rules,” as they are called in Springfield’s government departments, set the policies by which people may apply for open positions, outline rules of conduct that employees of the city are expected to follow, and spell out human resources policies for sick leave and accumulated vacation time. On June 27, the City Council will consider formal adoption of the bill that, among other things, removes instances of the pronouns “his” and “her” and replaces them with “they,” “the employee,” or “the person.”

“His” was in dominant use before, with 134 references removed, while “hers” was removed five times.

Springfield Director of Human Resources Darla Morrison described the pending changes to the City Council June 13.

“We’ve been working with our new director of diversity, equity and inclusion to update some language that’s more inclusive in the actual language of the Merit Rules,” Morrison said. “We’re also, at the same time, making some updates to align language that mirrors current protocols that we’re following or even provide clarification to existing rules.”

Springfield’s equity and equality report

In April, The City Council adopted the Springfield Mayor’s Initiative on Equity and Equality Report. The report is a set of five principles that resulted from about a year’s worth of work by more than 15 people. Its 9-0 adoption through a Springfield City Council resolution on April 18 was largely a symbolic step, but it set the stage for more actions to make city government more inclusive in months and years to come.

Taj Suleyman came to Springfield in May 2021, when he was hired as the city’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion. One of his first and most important jobs was to advise the committee.

“We are looking at these guiding principles as our North Star, if you will, that we would internally in the city see how this could be implemented — of course, after your guidance and your instruction — and also in the community how we can also co-lead this effort,” Suleyman told the City Council.

The Springfield Personnel Board advises the City Council, city manager and human resources director on matters of employee administration. Morrison said the personnel board approved all of the language changes found in the 36-page bill document.

“We did meet in May and they voted unanimously to approve the changes that are before you that are under their jurisdiction, as well,” Morrison said.

The language in the Merit Rules bill also updates the city’s policy to allow more than three immediate family relatives to work for the city if they work in different departments, clarifies the city’s policy and requirements for open and closed personnel records, and allows the city to stop an employee from accruing sick leave in some cases, “such as when an employee is on an unpaid leave of absence of over 10 days, or when an employee is allowed to take paid leave prior to a planned retirement date.”

Taj Suleyman, director of diversity, equity and inclusion for the City of Springfield, welcomed and recognized city employees at the 2022 Springfield Prayer Breakfast, before introducing Pastor John Alarid of Freedom City Church, who said a prayer for the city and the work of the employees. (Photo by David Stoeffler)

Springfield’s 5 pillars on Equity and Equality

The Springfield Mayor’s Initiative on Equity and Equality Report contains five pillars that reflect a “commitment to improving inclusive and equitable access to opportunities, recognizing the inherent dignity, value, and worth of each individual in our community.”

Dialogue and Understanding 

“We are committed to…” 

• Seeking and listening to diverse thoughts respectfully 

• Fostering a culture of mutual learning through continual dialogue and education 

Cultural Consciousness  

“We are committed to…” 

• Developing awareness of our own existing biases 

• Understanding, valuing, and respecting diversity 

Advocacy and Partnerships 

“We are committed to…” 

• Cultivating inclusive partnerships to increase intentional and effective collaboration 

• Welcoming diverse voices and advocating for the underrepresented and the disenfranchised 

Structural and Systemic Barriers 

“We are committed to…” 

• Identifying and removing diversity, equity, and inclusion barriers 

• Refining policies and implementing practices to protect the rights of every member of our community 

Personal and Organizational Accountability 

“We are committed to…” 

• Inspiring, modeling, and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion excellence 

• Honoring individuals and organizations that demonstrate accountability for fostering an inclusive community

Rance Burger

Rance Burger covers local government for the Daily Citizen. His goal is to help people know more about what projects their government is involved in, and how their tax dollars are being spent. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at rburger@sgfcitizen.org or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger