Xusana Davis is Vt.’s new director of racial equity

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott has appointed Xusana Davis, who currently serves as a top official in the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, to be Vermont’s first executive director of racial equity.
Davis, 30, is the director of health and housing strategic initiatives in the city’s health department. She also served as the director of the New York City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus.
“Xusana’s leadership and experience are a perfect fit for this position, and she will be a valuable addition to our team,” Scott said in a statement Friday. “In this role, she will be critical to our work to ensure state government is demonstrating a full commitment to equal opportunity and treatment for all Vermonters, our visitors and our employees.”
The director of racial equity position, and a five-member Racial Equity Advisory Panel, which the director oversees, were established by lawmakers and the governor last year to help identify and address systemic racism in state government. The director is also tasked with recommending fairness and diversity policies, gathering and analyzing race-based data, and developing and conducting trainings to improve inclusion in state government.
“I am honored to be a part of Vermont’s commitment to improve equity within state government,” Davis said in a statement Friday. “I look forward to the opportunity to work collaboratively with all branches of government to make Vermont more accessible to all, regardless of ethnicity or place of origin,” she said.
A spokesperson for the New York City Health Department said that Davis would not be available for an interview until she starts her new position. Her first day on the job is July 29.
Tabitha Pohl-Moore, the president of the Rutland chapter of the NAACP, said Friday that she was glad that Scott administration had hired Davis, and filled the executive director position.
“She has a very arduous task before her and I wish her the best of luck as she begins her journey,” Pohl-Moore said. “I hope she reaches out to Vermont’s leaders and people of color in the first few months of her tenure.”
The law signed by the governor last year establishing the new executive director gave a February 2019 deadline to fill the position. But the search took longer than expected. The governor’s spokesperson, Rebecca Kelley, said that’s largely because there were many qualified candidates for the position, and multiple who came from out-of-state.
Mark Hughes, the executive director of Justice for All, a group focused on addressing racial inequities, said that Davis looked like a “stellar” choice for the director position. Hughes pushed for the legislation that established the racial equity director and panel. But he said that given the high turnover rate for people of color who work in Vermont state government, he’s concerned Davis may not stay on the job long-term.  “She’s got some great experience, great background,” he said. “I just hope she stays. I think that’s my biggest concern.”
Last year, over constitutional concerns, Scott vetoed the first version of the legislation establishing the new director of racial equity. The first bill had prevented governors from terminating the director unless they had the consent of the five-member Racial Equity Advisory Panel. But Scott argued that this requirement undercut his constitutional authority over executive staffing. Scott replaced the bill with an executive order establishing a similar panel and position.
Then, to earn Scott’s signature, lawmakers, who called Scott’s order “watered down,” changed the bill, giving the governor the power to fire the director.

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