I felt mixed emotions regarding the Town Council’s decision to delay an RFP to hire a diversity consultant. Members of the Smithfield Anti-Hate Coalition have engaged in a productive and thoughtful conversation around this news. Some have rightly pointed out that a delay could provide time for the task force to better assess the community’s priorities and goals. I agree. However, regarding the issue of volunteer versus paid consultant there are multiple concerns.
First, there is very little accountability and no contractual obligation with a volunteer; no performance goals or metrics, enforceable timelines, etc. Second, volunteers can quit at any time, leaving a process (if one has begun) in the lurch and potentially making it challenging to find someone else either to continue to work and/or making it difficult for the successor to do so. Third, what authority/power would a volunteer have to set and adhere to timelines, deadlines and other “obligations” versus a paid consultant? Fourth, the potential for a process to get started and then derailed for whatever reason, resulting in lost momentum and/or starting over is much higher with a volunteer. Fifth, does anyone really expect a volunteer to deliver the equivalent of $20,000-$30,000 worth of professional services that a paid consultant would be under contract to provide?
Any of these things could jeopardize the task force and what it is trying to do, especially as we are at the very beginning of this process. Relying on a volunteer has significantly higher potential for problems and risks derailing this first-time, brand new effort. Working with a volunteer versus a professional should be evaluated very carefully if the town and the community are serious about attempting this work. My comments are in no way meant to demean or devalue the incredible work of unpaid volunteers that happens daily in this community and across the US. It is about being able to set expectations and require accountability from whomever is ultimately chosen to help Smithfield move forward around the issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.