By Bethany Bray
---- — SALEM — The city is creating a new position of Latino affairs coordinator, in an effort to improve outreach and engagement with the city’s growing — and somewhat disconnected — Latino population.
The position, funded in the new fiscal year’s budget, will be part-time and will pay $15 per hour.
“The aim is to get information to and from Latino residents in an improved way,” said Mayor Kim Driscoll. “It’s more than getting the recycling calendar printed in Spanish and English. It’s about engaging (residents) around issues, and I think that doesn’t happen as well as it could.”
According to the job description, the coordinator will serve as a City Hall point of contact for Spanish-speaking residents; become a liaison to the Point Neighborhood Association and other Latino groups; provide Spanish translation for city departments, from meeting materials to website copy; and develop a long-term plan for Latino civic engagement.
The 2010 U.S. Census reported that 15.6 percent of Salem’s 41,000 residents are Latino or Hispanic, an increase over the 11.2 percent recorded in the 2000 census.
The coordinator’s job was posted on salem.com on Tuesday. Driscoll said she hopes to make a hire soon and have the job filled by the start of the school year. The coordinator will work out of the mayor’s office.
Driscoll noted that many cities have this type of position to engage immigrant and non-English speaking populations.
“We’re hoping this will build a bridge and fill in some gaps,” she said. “We have to be able to communicate with all members of our community — not just written and spoken word, but engagement. When that doesn’t occur, we see ourselves not doing as well as we can.”
The city budget for the coming fiscal year also added five full-time positions: two police officers, two firefighters and a building inspector. The budget was approved by the City Council June 27.
Nine members of the city’s Latino Leadership Coalition sent a letter to Driscoll and the City Council last week, thanking them for creating the Latino affairs coordinator position.
“We applaud your efforts in moving decisively in the direction of making our city government more representative of the entire Salem community,” they wrote.
Coalition members also expressed support for expanding the position to full-time.
“This is kind of baby steps; we’re starting out with a part-time position,” said Lucy Corchado, a coalition member and former city councilor. “There’s enough to be done that this person will be very busy. ... There’s definitely enough work to be done that would merit (a full-time position).”
Translation of materials is needed, from meeting postings to the city’s recorded reverse-911 messages, as well as outreach and long-term planning for Latino engagement, she said.
This week, Driscoll said her focus lies with getting the part-time position up and running.
According to the job description, the coordinator will work 16 hours a week, without benefits. It asks for applicants who are “highly fluent” in Spanish and English, familiar with Latino culture and have strong person-to-person communication, problem-solving and translation skills. A bachelor’s degree in communications, civic engagement, public administration or a related field is required, plus three years professional experience.
Latino Leadership Coalition members meet with Driscoll once a month to discuss needs and ideas for Salem’s Latino community. The creation of an outreach position at City Hall was suggested during their meetings with Driscoll, said Corchado.
A group of Salem citizens formed the Latino Leadership Coalition last year, in the wake of the state’s designation of Bentley Elementary School as Level 4 “underperforming.” The school serves many children from the largely Latino “Point” neighborhood.
The group has worked with the school district on the turnaround efforts. The coalition has a core group of 12 to 15 active members, with a full membership of more than 30, said Corchado.
Bethany Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.