City of Powell: Council's new community-diversity committee gets to work

Jim Fischer
ThisWeek
Members of the cIty of Powell's community-diversity advisory committee are (from left) police Chief Stephen Hrytzik, Robert Davis, Elina Coyne, City Council member Heather Karr, Dee Miller, City Manager Andrew White and Dustin Sun.

Powell City Council’s new community-diversity advisory committee held its first meeting March 17, laying the groundwork for its efforts to promote access, opportunity and inclusion in the city.

The committee was formed by a resolution of City Council last fall.

It had its genesis, council member Heather Karr said, in the protest/rally held in the city last summer in response to the racial unrest following the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police. Residents were asked to apply, and council selected eight members.

Karr said that event was well done and created strong momentum while also demonstrating a need in the growing and increasingly diverse community. She credited police Chief Steve Hrytzik with the formation of an informal advisory group.

Indications from some in the community, she said, were that “we needed to do something more.”

Karr said she hopes the creation of a formal, standing committee of City Council could be part of that “something more.”

“Its purpose is to provide input to City Council on policy and procedures to promote diversity in the city,” Karr said.

Karr said the intent is to be responsive to the needs of the community and to provide a mechanism by which to address them via council.

“It’s important for the community to know that council is actively considering these issues and taking feedback from the community,” council member Dan Swartwout said. “It’s a specific and intentional way to foster communication.”

Karr -- who was selected to serve as the committee’s chairperson at the March meeting -- said the group’s first task will be to cast a wide net in identifying issues around diversity in the city and then prioritizing them.

“I asked our members to just gather as much feedback from people as possible. We’re open to new ideas and want to hear from representatives of any protected class,” she said.

Powell resident and committee member Elina Coyne called the committee “a good start.”

Coyne said she can recall her older daughter struggling at school when she was younger.

“She is mixed, from my first marriage, and she would sometimes come home from school crying and tell me, ‘I wish I had your skin color,’” Coyne recalled.

She has advocated for cultural understanding in the city in recent years and has applied to be on the new committee after having been recruited by Karr.

“I come from a different country. I was born in the former Soviet Union. I’m Jewish. I’m female. I think these things have helped me to understand that everyone needs to be appreciated,” Coyne said. “I’m an outspoken person for bringing people together.”

That’s the kind of thing Karr would like to see, and determining exactly how the committee could accomplish that goal is something members will address in upcoming meetings.

“It’s really important that our work be resident-driven and not council-driven,” Karr said.

The committee’s is scheduled for 6 p.m. April 21.

As a formal committee of council, its meetings are open to the public. Karr said it's hoped the meeting will be held in person at City Hall, 47 Hall St. in Powell, but she said the group might have to meet via Zoom.

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