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Including Everyone

This week, the Fairview City Council will finalize its work plan for 2021-2022.

One of the top priority issues:

Start the conversation and explore ways to service our community in a more diverse, equitable and inclusive way by working with a qualified consultant.

City Councilor Darren Riordan put this item on his priority list – and I put it on mine, too. During our Feb. 13 goal-setting session, Councilor Riordan also asked that the word “inclusive” be added to our city mission and core values statements. I’m grateful for his leadership on this issue, and I’m proud that the Fairview council, as a team, voted to amend our mission and goals, and make hiring a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant a priority for the coming year. This is real progress.

Building a strong, inclusive community is one promise I made to voters when I ran for a city council seat. Here’s why.

A pillar of good government is ensuring that all citizens are represented, supported, and included – regardless of race or ethnicity, language or income, gender identity or physical or intellectual ability. Everyone in our city needs to know that help is available, have the means to get that help, and feel safe and respected when they seek it.

One way to get there is to hire a diverse city staff, elect a diverse council, and appoint a diverse group of volunteer leaders to our committees. For a generation, research has shown that diversity in any organization – a corporation or a city or a non-profit – can lead to richer discussions, better decisions, and more effective outcomes. That’s why it is critical to create a representative group of city employees, leaders, and volunteers.

But getting a diverse group at the table is not enough. In order to build and deliver city services that truly meet everyone’s needs, we need to listen to all those folks at the table, agree on the problems and solutions, and work as a unified team to improve.

I believe Fairview’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts will be successful if:

- Everyone is encouraged to ask questions, raise concerns, and express opinions

- Everyone is treated equally and with respect

- Everyone is committed to listening to one another

- Everyone feels they can learn something valuable from each other

- Everyone is open to new ways of thinking and working

- Everyone works together to improve services and communication

None of these conditions were met in the City of Gresham, where failed diversity efforts in the Gresham Police Department have resulted in the departure of the former mayor, city manager, and police chief.

On Feb. 9, the city made public an investigative report that showed that Corey Falls, a Black man hired to work with the Gresham Police Department, was subject to a hostile work environment. The report found that Falls was repeatedly undermined and discredited – publicly and privately – in his efforts to improve services so that police respond to the needs of a diverse community. The report found that those reforms, ordered by the Gresham City Council, were never fully realized. The 104-page report also concluded that resident concerns about racism in the police department were not addressed. According to the report: “When racially or ethnically insensitive incidents occurred, Police Department leadership took no or insufficient steps to take proper remedial action.” (If you don’t have time to wade through the full Gresham report, check out a great overview of its contents in The Outlook).

Getting everyone to agree that we can do better in the diversity, equity and inclusion department is the first, and most important, step in the process.

The numbers tell the tale. Data from the 2010 U.S. Census shows that 27 percent of Fairview residents are racial or ethnic minorities – including 16 percent identifying as Hispanic, 7 percent as Asian and Pacific Islander, and 5 percent as Black. About one in four children in our city speak a language other than English at home, mostly Spanish but also Russian and Vietnamese. When 2020 census data comes in, these numbers will surely rise.

Yet the Fairview staff is overwhelmingly white. Our seven-member city council includes only one person of color (Balwant Bhullar) and one woman (me). There is only one person of color serving on any city committee, critical volunteer groups who advise the city council on our budget, public safety, economic development, parks, recreation, planning, and community engagement efforts. That’s only one person of color out of 49 volunteers!

I hope we all agree that we can do better. We’d have plenty of company.

Cities across Oregon are working to improve their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. The League of Oregon Cities is changing how they work by making a more diverse board, committee roster and membership base and creating DEI trainings for their municipal members. The Gresham city council has made DEI issues a priority issue for more than five years. Just yesterday, the Wood Village city council attended a retreat focused solely on DEI issues. Led by local landscape designer and civic leader Mike Abbate, the Wood Village council is committed to looking at all city issues – public safety to parks – through an equity lens.

This work is tricky.

Conversations about race, gender, and other differences – and the real possibility of shifts in attitudes, behavior, and power – make people uncomfortable. We have to expect that discomfort - and expect a certain amount of conflict. These are signs that real change may occur. We also have to believe this hard and sometimes painful work is necessary in order to create the safe, healthy, just and prosperous places we want to live in.

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