UA Community Relations Committee: New group will focus on diversity, inclusion

Nate Ellis
ThisWeek
Upper Arlington Municipal Building

As soon as this month, an Upper Arlington Community Relations Committee is expected to hold its first official meeting and take its steps toward determining how the community can be one that welcomes diversity and fosters mutual respect.

The committee was formed Sept. 14 when City Council voted unanimously to appoint nine members from a pool of more than 40 applicants.

They are: Floyd Akins (committee chair), Farida El-Hennawy (vice chair), Hana Abdelbaki, Ukeme Awakessien Jeter, Howard Warner, Jean-Philippe Dorval, Karen Heiser, Judy Kase and Jason Sayat.

“We went out of our way to make sure that the people on the committee were representative of thoughts and concepts and ideas versus specific groups and interests,” Councilwoman Michele Hoyle said. “I think that kept us from a group that was too interested in self-interests.”

According to the ordinance that established the committee, it’s charged with helping Upper Arlington be a “welcoming community” and with promoting “understanding, mutual respect and a sense of belonging among all residents to affirm the value of each individual and foster a continued culture of shared community.”

The ordinance states the group will strive to “nurture Upper Arlington’s continued deep sense of community and neighborliness through activities designed to further enhance understanding, appreciation, communication and mutual respect for all members of our community.”

It also directs the committee to “work to enhance the vision of Upper Arlington as a community that continues to actively welcome, support and treat all people with integrity, fairness and respect.”

A “framework document” for how the Community Relations Committee is expected to proceed says the group will hold public meetings and work to address understanding and inclusion by collaborating with existing community groups, including Equal UA, Upper Arlington Schools and various civic and faith organizations.

The ordinance forming the committee said it won’t serve as a policy-forming entity, nor a dispute-resolution group. Rather, it will be a “recommending body” that will report to the city manager and council.

“The formation of a Community Relations Committee evolved from a desire by many residents to advance Upper Arlington as a place that is welcoming, cohesive and inclusive,” said Emma Speight, Upper Arlington community-affairs director. “The process began in the spring of 2019 with two workshops and an online survey.

“Last fall, council formed a temporary committee that reviewed the emerging findings and recommendations and developed a framework for the next steps,” she said. “In early December, the temporary committee recommended to council that it formally create a Community Relations Committee.”

Speight said that she, Schoeny, council President Kip Greenhill, Vice President Brendan King and Hoyle interviewed candidates for the committee.

According to the framework document, the appointees’ terms are staggered; council used a lottery to determine that Akins, El-Hennawy, Abdelbaki, Jeter and Warner will serve four-year terms and that Dorval, Heiser, Kase and Sayat will serve two-year terms.

“The chair and vice chair are in the process of scheduling the first meetings for the committee, which are likely to be held in October and November, with a break for the holidays,” Speight said. “We anticipate discussions to include establishing a regular meeting schedule for 2021, as well as a review and discussion of the framework document to help identify and prioritize projects that the Committee wishes to pursue.”

Speight said the committee will be ongoing, similar to other city boards and commissions, and will be charged with providing an annual update to council about its accomplishments for the current year and goals for the upcoming year.

“It’s great to finally come to this point,” Councilman Jim Lynch said. “We’ve put a lot of energy in this in the past. It’s almost been two years. We had a broad coalition come together to do this work.”

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