Delaware leaders hear call for more diversity, inclusion in city government

PAUL COMSTOCK
editorial@thisweeknews.com
Tamika Vinson-Reid speaks to Delaware City Council members and other city leaders during council's June 22 meeting. Vinson-Reid, speaking on behalf of several area organizations, issued a call for more diversity among the city's leaders and staff.

Delaware City Council on June 22 heard a request for diversity, inclusiveness and equality in city government.

"This public comment is not to call you out but is really rather to call you in because this work has to be collective and we have to do it together," Tamika Vinson-Reid said during the virtual meeting.

Vinson-Reid, marketing and development director at HelpLine of Delaware and Morrow Counties, said she was speaking on behalf of a consortium of organizations, including the Delaware African American Heritage Council, Second Ward Community Initiative and Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church.

"As a consortium, we offer our collective expertise, capacity and participation to achieve this success," she said.

Several city officials said they had been familiarizing themselves with issues Vinson-Reid raised.

They discussed possible opening steps that could lead to creation of a board, commission or working group -- composed mainly of residents -- that could make proposals to city government.

Vinson-Reid said the consortium stands united in calling for a diverse, inclusive and equitable Delaware.

"We define diversity as any difference that makes a difference," she said. "Inclusion is leveraging, engaging and valuing human and cultural differences to deliver the most creative, innovative and impactful results. And equity is creating equal outcomes by providing opportunities tailored to one situation.

"So why is this important? We know that, for decades, governments have been intentional about discrimination, and we've seen the outcomes for minorities, and marginalized groups have not improved," Vinson-Reid said. "Because of that, we need to have positions in local government that are just as intentional about remediating institutional racism and other structural barriers."

Vinson-Reid said everyone should have the opportunity to contribute to and benefit from economic prosperity, especially historically excluded populations.

"Being more inclusive makes the city stronger, more stable as you give all residents a chance to improve their quality of life," she said.

Vinson-Reid named 18 city boards, commissions and committees -- ranging from the city planning commission to the sister city advisory board -- and asked council members to raise a hand if they knew of a person of color serving on any the groups.

Mayor Carolyn Kay Riggle said vacancies on the 18 city committees and commissions are filled by those who formally apply to serve. The city announces vacancies on its website and all residents are invited to apply, she said.

Diversity exists on the city's 31-member comprehensive-plan steering committee, Riggle said. The committee was created in 2018 and continues to work on an update of the city's comprehensive plan, focused on managing growth, offering housing for all residents and mantaining environmental conservation, among other topics.

Vinson-Reid said she appreciated the efforts but added, "I think we have several examples where people have stood up and showed up, and they were denied the opportunity to serve. ... It's just an opportunity for us to do better as a city.

"It is time for us to adopt equitable policies that better reflect and serve our community," Vinson-Reid said. "So to that end, we're asking you to submit a plan as to how you intend to increase diversity on these boards, commissions and community committees in the near future.

"Further, we're publicly calling for you to establish a chief diversity officer to lead diversity and inclusion management for the city of Delaware," she said.

Areas of focus could include workforce, supplier diversity, outreach, internal leadership and communication, she said.

Vinson-Reid listed several other requests, including incentives and programs to attract minority-owned businesses; a commitment to more diverse city offices and departments; and training for city workers in racism, implicit bias and cultural humility.

She presented the requests as "an opportunity to reframe racial and economic inclusion as integral to growth, as opposed to optional.

"Change requires us to acknowledge existing injustices and systemic racism, but progress also requires a relentless pursuit from each and every one of us. ... Diversity is the value, but inclusion and equity is a success," Vinson-Reid said.

Riggle and council member Drew Farrell said the city can be represented on a group focusing on diversity and equality, but no city official should control or direct the group.

A group concept less formal than City Council, which is bound by its meeting agendas, would be suited to more-honest conversations, Farrell said.

He said his talks with residents have underscored the importance of improving communication and keeping a conversation going.

Council members Lisa Keller and Cory Hoffman said one possibility would be for the group to present proposals, with council acting on them. Keller also said it's important for city officials to be involved with the group, without being an impediment to the process.

City Manager Tom Homan said city staff could research possibilities employed by other cities.

"The National League of Cities is a wealth of information. ... We're not the first community that's had this question asked," he said.

Homan said the research might take a month, but Riggle said the city shouldn't sit idle during that time.

Farrell said the city should continue to reach out to Vinson-Reid as a liaison.

The consortium is ready and looking for a partnership, Vinson-Reid said.

After the council meeting, she said public weekly discussions are planned at 7 p.m. Fridays at the Second Ward Community Center, 54 Ross St.

Video from the June 22 council meeting can be found at tinyurl.com/june22council.

Video of the June 19 community meeting at the Second Ward center is at tinyurl.com/june19secondward.

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