Northglenn eyes board for equity issues

Councilors consider recipe for creating a group to work on social justice issues

Scott Taylor
staylor@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 7/22/20

For Northglenn elected officials, making sure a group tasked with encouraging diversity, equality and fairness in city affairs is diverse, equal and fair could be the first hurdle. “Does anyone …

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Northglenn eyes board for equity issues

Councilors consider recipe for creating a group to work on social justice issues

Posted

For Northglenn elected officials, making sure a group tasked with encouraging diversity, equality and fairness in city affairs is diverse, equal and fair could be the first hurdle.

“Does anyone else, or anybody who is listening, get the irony that we are talking about a committee on diversity and we are collectively talking about who we are going to exclude?” Councilor Randall Peterson said at one point. “Baffling. This represents the absolute ludicrous fallacy of having applicants based exclusively on group identity. There are thousands of people in this city who care about race and equity and diversity that might not fit the particular status quo box.”

Councilors discussed creating a new nine-member group of citizens to advise the City Council on matters of diversity, racial equity and social justice during a special Wednesday City Council meeting July 15.

It’s part of a pledge councilors made in May to make a constructive change to the way the city operates in the wake of nationwide protests.

“I continue to believe that it’s vitally important that we have people from different walks of life, different cultural backgrounds, different races,” said Councilor Jenny Wilford, the mayor pro tem.

Building a toolkit

Councilors are scheduled to formally create the new Diversity, Inclusivity and Social Equity Board and begin taking applications in August. A public hearing on the board is scheduled for Aug. 10, with a final reading set for Aug. 24. Applications would be open through Sept. 4.

The actual work began last fall after the current City Council was elected and sworn in. Early on, the group agreed to make inclusivity part of their five-year strategic plan. Rupa Venkastesh, assistant to City Manager Heather Geyer has been the lead staffer on that effort.

It follows a framework created by the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, a national network of government officials that began discussing racial and equity issues in 1981. The goal is create a set of policies and programs that make the city more diverse and equitable for all residents based on Northglenn’s own make up.

“The purpose there is to use it to evaluate new programs and policies coming forward to determine whether they really are equitable or not,” Venkatesh said. “It’s one thing to create a program or a policy but it’s another thing to evaluate it for fairness if you don’t know the measures.”

In Northglenn, the board will be made up of two members from each ward and an at-large member.

The city will accept applications from anyone interested in the work that is 16-years-old and older and is willing to take part in a diversity training program. Councilors themselves are scheduled to participate in the same training program.

Councilors will select the candidates they feel are best suited it lead equity and inclusivity discussions. Plans call for having councilors interview and appoint the board in September, with the group’s first meeting scheduled in October.

Equitable board

But councilors spent some time discussing the practical matters of creating the new board — how many members would sit on the board, how they would be recruited and how councilors would select the members.

A key part of the group’s success relies having a diverse group of members, Venkatesh said. Councilors want the group to be potentially made up people from all racial, religious, ethnic, gender and sexual orientations —as well as people with disabilities and both the rich and the poor.

But Councilor Ashley Witkovich asked how the council would know if the potential members were diverse without asking them.

“We want to have this membership composition — diversity in race, religion, gender identity, age, and all that —but how will we know all that if it’s not on the application?“ Witkovich said. “I don’t know how we get to that.”

That led to a discussion on other groups the councilors think should be represented. Mayor Meredith Leighty suggested having a spot for local business owners as well as employees.

One part of the memo called for bringing in “...those traditionally underrepresented in community engagement efforts.” Councilor Antonio Esquibel took issue with that phrasing.

“The term ‘tradition’ has a lot of different meanings,” Esquibel said. “You know, the Confederate flag is a tradition. I would hate for us to go down there rabbit hole of defining tradition because that could spark all kind of debate —your tradition, my tradition, our tradition. I would prefer historical, or another word.”

Councilor Peterson suggested that rather than asking candidates for their ethnic, religious or sexual orientations on a written application — questions Peterson suggested might not even be legal to ask —he suggested using an essay question to let them to explain why they are suited for the board.

“I think the a stronger question is explaining and describing your commitment to diversity personally and your vision for diversity for the city long term,” he said. “I would hate to have people that are really passionate and really care about this that are excluded using discrimination. That’s why I think it’s hard to tell someone’s passion and reality based on a box they checked.”

He concluded, referring to Dr. Martin Luther King, saying he wished people could be judged on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.

But Councilor Wilford took issue with Peterson referring to King.

“He was actually talking about his children, not about White men or anybody else for that matter,” she said. “I think it’s important for us to make sure we don’t take people’s words out of context, in particular people of color — especially when, Randall, you and I are both two White folks and we don’t know what it means to live a life of a person of color. We don’t know what oppression looks like. We have White privilege.”

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