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Monday, May 17, 2021
Tyler Lowry, Franklin County Commissioners, 614/525-6630
Robin Ross, Franklin County Commissioners, 614/525-2392

The Franklin County Commissioners have hired a new Chief Economic Equity and Inclusion Officer to help promote equitable and inclusive policies both inside and outside the commissioners’ office.  They’ve also filled an open position leading the county’s Office of Justice Policies and Programs, which advocates for smart justice solutions, works with young people involved in the justice system, and assists residents who are returning to the community from incarceration.
The new Chief Economic Equity and Inclusion Officer is Damika Withers who most recently served as the assistant director of support services for the Franklin County Office on Aging.  Withers has been with the county in a number of roles for a decade, and in public service for 20 years.  She previously oversaw the Adult Protective Services department and National Caregiver Support Program at Aging, managing nearly $2 million in contracts.  Ms. Withers graduated from Kent State University and holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Ohio University.
“All of us, including Franklin County, are products of our history,” said Board of Commissioners President, Kevin L. Boyce.  “Hundreds of years of purposeful policies have gotten us to a place in which a child’s level of success in life can be more accurately predicted by their zip code or demographics than by their work ethic.  It’s going to take purposeful, thoughtful policy on our part to remake our community in the way we’d like to see it.  That’s why it’s so important, not just to plan to do better, but to actually have somebody on staff whose job it is to study our policies and advocate for equity and inclusion every day.”
Last November, the commissioners added Racial Equity to their list of core principles of good governance.  In other recent actions, they declared racism to me a public health crisis, created a construction inclusion team to ensure that the workforce and suppliers building county facilities reflect the community, and also an office to support disadvantaged businesses seeking to work with the county.  In 2018, the board commissioned the Rise Together Blueprint for Reducing Poverty, which brought together hundreds of residents living in poverty with experts from the Central Ohio social services community to create a plan to help all Franklin County residents thrive.  The plan includes 13 large goals and more than 130 action steps to make those goals a reality.  It also recognizes racial inequity as a cause of poverty in our community.
The commissioners’ new Director of Justice Policy and Programs will be Ruchelle Pride.  The commissioners created the Office of Justice Policy and Programs to coordinate with key partners working in criminal justice in Central Ohio, including the courts, sheriff’s office, prosecutor, and community groups, and to help them implement evidence-based smart justice practices that promote public safety and reduce recidivism.  The office helps to develop county policies, acquire grant funding for new initiatives, and is the commissioners’ liaison to various criminal justice boards such as the Franklin County Reentry Advisory Board.
Ms. Pride comes to Franklin County from the Delaware County Juvenile and Probate Court but was previously a program manager for the Franklin County Juvenile Detention Facility.  She has long career experience working with people in the justice system or transitioning back from incarceration, and she has a Bachelor of Science in Emergency Management and Homeland Security from Franklin University and is working on a master’s degree in Restorative Practices. 
“We commissioners know that county government is always only as good as the team we have working for us, and that our staff is the best around,” said Commissioner John O’Grady.  “Damika and Ruchelle are fantastic additions to the team, and I’m confident that they will hit the ground running and make an immediate impact for the residents of Franklin County.”
Ruchelle Pride started as Director of the Office of Justice Policy and Programs on April 26th, and Damika Withers began on May 10th.