The City of Delaware is being called upon to address issues with the lack of diversity and inclusiveness within the local government.
During the June 22 Delaware City Council meeting, city resident Tamika Vinson-Reid spoke to council about inclusion in the city government on behalf of several local organizations.
Among those organizations were Agape International Cathedral, the Delaware African-American Heritage Council, One People, Outreach Christian Center, the Second Ward Community Initiative, and Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church.
“We stand united in pursuit for calling for a diverse, inclusive, and equitable Delaware, Ohio,” Vinson-Reid told council.
Vinson-Reid said the groups define diversity as “any difference that makes a difference.” In regards to inclusion, she said it can be defined as “leveraging, engaging, and valuing human and cultural differences to deliver the most creative, innovative, and impactful results.”
As for inequity, Vinson-Reid defined it as “creating equal outcomes by providing opportunities tailored towards one situation.”
“We know that for decades, governments have been intentional about discrimination, and we’ve seen that 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 went on to say everyone should have the opportunity to contribute to and benefit from economic prosperity, “especially for historically-excluded populations.” She added that being more inclusive makes a city “stronger and more stable” as all residents have the same opportunities to have better lives.
To close her speech to council, Vinson-Reid provided a list of 18 city boards, commissions, and committees that don’t include a person of color, saying the first step to progress is identifying the problem and not growing in denial. She asked council to submit a plan on how it is going to increase diversity in the city government and listed several steps she and the represented groups would like to see.
Among those steps is the creation of a “chief diversity officer (position) to lead diversity and inclusion management for the city of Delaware; the creation of an inclusion, diversity, and inequity advisory board “with specific stakeholder subgroups to review city policies, procedures, and programs; and developing incentives and programs that attract certified, minority-owned businesses to the community.
In addition to those steps, Vinson-Reid called for a change to any civil service rules “to ensure that any and all candidates are accepted,” a commitment to diversifying city offices and departments, and anti-racism training across the board in city offices and departments.
Councilman Drew Farrell said he has been attending meetings and talking with as many people as possible to facilitate discussions about diversity and inclusion issues in the community. In doing so, he said there has been a prevailing theme that emerged, centered around improving conversations, sustaining those conversations, and ensuring everyone is on the same page regarding the best way to represent the community.
Farrell, echoing Vinson-Reid’s comments, said he would like to see some sort of board or working group created to allow those things to happen moving forward.
“The idea would be it would be an ongoing, action-oriented group that would examine not just the city itself, as an organization, but we have so many nonprofit and other groups that interact with different parts of the city,” Farrell said. “It would be nice to have a way to kind of bring all that together to look at where the areas are that we could improve, where the areas are where different groups could help each other out, support each other better. And then just bring that conversation together so there are no crosslines in communication, there are fewer areas of misunderstanding.”
Councilwoman Lisa Keller said she and Farrell have discussed the creation of a working group, which Farrell said would include subgroups that would accurately represent the demographics of Delaware to give all groups a seat at the table.
Councilman Cory Hoffman suggested a good first step in moving forward with such ideas would be for city staff to create a “playbook” based on other cities that have modeled similar groups to establish the best way to set up a group. Vice Mayor Kent Shafer, agreeing with Hoffman’s suggestion, said looking at what other cities have accomplished, combined with Vinson-Reid’s call to action, would help to establish a foundation to build on.
Keller added that it will be important for council to be “involved enough” with the working group so they can facilitate and organize the different subgroups, while also not being “so involved that we become an impediment to the process.”
With a “united” consortium of organizations filled with expertise in the matters at hand, Vinson-Reid said those groups have to be at the table and can help shape what the working group should look like. “We’re looking for partnership,” she said. “This has to be a collective response.”
City Manager Tom Homan said he and city staff will do the research to better inform the future conversations on what other communities have done in regards to inclusion and diversity in local government.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.