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New city leaders to take up racial justice resolution

After the election Nov. 3, new members of Ashland City Council and city commissions will take over the past council’s unfinished business and ongoing efforts, including a broadening discussion about the government’s role in furthering social equity and racial justice.

On July 7, the council approved Resolution No. 2020-15, which established a formal commitment at the city level to take actions “with purpose in order to provide immediate support for advocacy efforts while putting in place the elements necessary for long-term systemic change,” according to council documents.

Actions include coordinating with Indigenous community leaders to rename Dead Indian Memorial Road, advocating for policy reform at the state and federal levels, encouraging dialogue between educational institutions and the Ashland Police Department about use of force, implementing bias trainings, improving mental health services, and developing programs to address systemic, root causes of inequality.

Official actions on the city’s social equity and racial justice tracking sheet stalled against urgent fire-related priorities, but some city leaders continue to revisit paths forward using the framework.

Still, with several layers of government waiting on the outcome of elections at the local, state and national level, some initiatives remain on hold.

“It’s unfortunate but true, there’s some work happening in these areas but significant chunks were definitely delayed due to the fire — all hands on deck for the event and response and beginnings of recovery,” City Administrator Adam Hanks said at the Oct. 6 council meeting.

As of Oct. 6, city staff had drafted a diversity hiring guide and discussion continues on the ramifications of government-sanctioned public art and Black Lives Matter displays — components of the resolution intended to “offer visible and immediate support for racial justice advocates,” according to the action tracking sheet.

City Attorney David Lohman said the Public Arts Commission and others have shown interest in organizing a permanent Railroad Park art installation to replace the temporary display, which would involve (at minimum) coordination from the legal and parks departments.

Lohman cautioned that questions about funding and sponsorship, project management and staffing will all come under consideration as the project progresses.

During a meeting of the Housing and Human Services Commission Oct. 22, Commissioner Gina DuQuenne criticized the resolution’s format as inadequate, without clear accountability or training models in place.

“I understand that it’s a start ... however, it was written by people who are not in the BIPOC community,” DuQuenne said. “I feel very strongly that this needs to be written by the people it affects, and because it wasn’t, there definitely needs to be some buy in.”

DuQuenne supported moving forward on culturally representative public art displays throughout the city as a way of enhancing a statement of love and acceptance. She recommended a commission be formed to ensure action items are implemented in line with perspectives of people of various races, and allow the actions within the resolution to remain flexible.

“It’s here, and because it’s here, we need to do it right,” DuQuenne said of the broadening discussion on social equity and racial justice within the city. “It has to have some color in it.”

Commissioner Rich Rohde called for employing a “racial justice lens” in the context of future city planning and housing policy, while Commissioner Echo Fields advocated for a deep look at models for racial equity and social justice impact assessments regarding housing policy for disabled residents, low-income people, and people of color. Fields recommended the assessment be added to the city’s resolution as a formal outcome.

According to Mayor John Stromberg, the key to success on this resolution rests in nuance.

Among any group of people, some council candidates are highly electable but lack an understanding of the “nuts and bolts” that make city government function, he said. From annual checks on the dam to the $700,000 spent this year on homeless services, understanding tax revenues and grant distribution funds, the complexity of a city official’s job cannot be ignored. Some training will be provided between Election Day and the new council’s first day on the job to help ease the transition.

The new council must determine its own way of working together, problem-solving and shifting away from election-oriented political speeches toward active listening and collaboration, he said.

For the current council, Councilor Tonya Graham’s move to place discussion of social equity and racial justice resolutions regularly on meeting agendas keeps the body focused, Stromberg said.

Now is the time to address wrongdoings and generations of disadvantage and prejudice, he said, but “figuring out what to do about that is a trickier issue.”

Whomever is selected on the new council, Stromberg advises that they appreciate the variation of experience and history unique to different ethnic groups, without losing sight of valuable distinctions by consolidating people into one group “of color.”

“Understanding that history, and taking it into account when you try to make things right, is an essential ingredient,” Stromberg said. “This is a question of innovation.”

He is confident that if followed through, efforts on the resolution to address housing, genuine community integration, health care, job opportunities and more can be socially transformational.

The new council should consider the existing framework and then reassess what could be done differently, Stromberg said. Moving forward involves identifying who is engaging in creative work surrounding social equity and racial justice, questioning what is left out of the resolution, what cannot be influenced by government, what is truly “window dressing,” and how to reach the heart of the issue, he said.

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497 and follow her on Twitter @AllayanaD.

Allayana Darrow / Ashland TidingsOn July 7, the Ashland City Council approved Resolution No. 2020-15, which established a formal commitment at the city level to take actions “with purpose in order to provide immediate support for advocacy efforts while putting in place the elements necessary for long-term systemic change.”