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‘Aggressive’ timeline set for Decatur’s diversity plan


‘Aggressive’ timeline set for Decatur’s diversity plan

Don Denard listens during a Feb. 18, 2014 Decatur City Commission meeting. File Photo by: Dan Whisenhunt
Don Denard listens during a Feb. 18, 2014 Decatur City Commission meeting. File Photo by: Dan Whisenhunt

Don Denard listens during a Feb. 18, 2014 Decatur City Commission meeting. File Photo by: Dan Whisenhunt

Decatur’s City Commission approved an agreement with a consultant to develop a plan to address issues surrounding the city’s dwindling diversity.

The plan is expected to be completed by December.

The agreement with The Art of Community to develop a Community Action Plan will cost $109,000, which includes a $25,000 grant from the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. City Manager Peggy Merriss said the total project budget, however, will be $125,000.

“We’ll have other expenses,” Merriss explained.

The Art of Community received a $25,000 contract last year to facilitate the diversity discussion. The consulting firm put together a Leadership Circle of residents and city employees that has been meeting regularly to develop recommendations about how the diversity discussion should move forward. The development of the Community Action Plan came about after a group of citizens, led by former School Board member Don Denard, raised concerns about alleged racial profiling by city Police Officers. The city decided to make it broader dialogue about race and diversity in the city.

As the city’s development has increased, its population of minority residents has decreased.

According to a report produced for the commission, whites accounted for 60 percent of the city’s population in 1990, while blacks accounted for almost 40 percent. According to the 2010 census, about 73 percent of the city’s population was white and 20 percent was black. The remainder of the population was non-black minority, which includes Hispanics.

Commissioner Scott Drake questioned whether the ambitious timeline is achievable, given that it will include the busy holiday months of November and December.

“That’s going to be an aggressive timeline,” Drake said. “It’s something the community is going to have to get behind and involved in, because I think we can only take it so far.”

Merriss agreed that the city is moving quickly.

“It is an aggressive schedule,” Merriss said. “I think in this instance, these are the kinds of issues which lend themselves to a really defined time. … So things are not extending beyond people’s emotional and mental capacities to engage in that kind of heavy discussion. While it’s aggressive, while it’s a pretty big deal, it’s probably well suited to the kind of intensity you’ll put into it. You don’t want people burning out before they’re finished.”

Mayor Jim Baskett said he was hopeful the plan would provide specific actions the city and its residents can take.

“The fact is, if all we do is we spend some concentrated time hugging and feeling good about ourselves then this is not going to be money well spent,” Baskett said. “The challenge is going to be how do we find the actual actions … What are the action steps we all can take going forward that will actually make a difference long term? If we can’t find a way to do that, then we’re wasting our time.”

As part of the development of the plan, there will be a “large-scale community conversation” held at the Ebster gymnasium on Aug. 29 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. According to the event description presented to the commission, “Participants will have an opportunity to share stories and begin providing input into the community action plan through use of the World Café conversation method which features rotating small group discussions. Small group discussions will be facilitated by Leadership Circle members and other volunteers.”

Denard attended the July 20 meeting and said he is supportive of moving forward with development of the Community Action Plan. He said the Leadership Circle meetings “have been a dynamic process.”

“We have to be open to change,” Denard said. “We have to have room in our minds for imagining a different way of being.”