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Decatur City Commission accepts diversity plan without a vote


Decatur City Commission accepts diversity plan without a vote

Shannan Miller (top right) visits with different tables during the Community Action Planning Cafe Conversation. File photo: Jonathan Phillips
Shannan Miller (top right) visits with different tables during the Community Action Planning Cafe Conversation. File photo: Jonathan Phillips

Shannan Miller (top right) visits with different tables during a Community Action Planning Cafe Conversation.
File photo: Jonathan Phillips

Decatur City Commissioners on Monday accepted a plan intended to make the city a more diverse place to live.

But acceptance of the report didn’t translate into an outright endorsement of the entire plan. While “acceptance of the Better Together Community Action Plan” was on the agenda under action items, commissioners declined to take a formal vote on it.

Some commissioners indicated that the report was in some ways flawed.

“I enthusiastically accept the plan,” Commissioner Bill Bolling said. “I don’t accept everything in it. It’s not a perfect plan. It’s a living document, but I want to enthusiastically hold up the effort of hundreds of citizens in Decatur, who took hundreds if not thousands of hours to give their input, to grapple with the issues. It’s not a small thing. I don’t think any of us can say we check off on everything in there. There’s plenty still to do and plenty to talk about. The real proof of the plan is what we do next, and that’s up to all of us.”

“No process is a perfect process,” Commissioner Patti Garrett said. “We have a guide or a plan that a new city commission will spend a lot of time reviewing and figuring out what that implementation looks like.”

Two new city commissioners – Tony Powers and Brian Smith – will take office next year, replacing Mayor Jim Baskett and interim Commissioner Bolling.

To read the full plan, click here.

Baskett suggested a vote acknowledging the acceptance of the report, but commissioners waved off that idea. So the report was accepted by default.

It was an off-key conclusion to a community discussion that began with a goal of creating a more harmonious city. The plan cost $109,000. It has been almost two years in the making, sparked by allegations of racial profiling by police officers that were raised back in January of 2014. Former School Board member Don Denard said he had been profiled, and other black residents and visitors soon came forward with stories of their own experiences with police officers. That discussion was broadened to include a conversation about all forms of diversity in the city. Decatur hired the Art of Community to facilitate the discussion. The full report was released on Friday, Dec. 4.

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During public comments the report received numerous endorsements from people who had participated in its creation, including former mayor Elizabeth Wilson.

“I want to speak in support of this plan,” Wilson said. “I have been involved with it since the beginning. I want to speak to the elderly population here. I am glad that … the availability of diverse affordable housing for the elderly population will be included and continue to be worked on.”

Denard, whose experiences helped inspire the creation of the Decatur Community Coalition, also supported the plan, but added his own word of caution. The Coalition will be watching to see what the commission does with the plan, he said.

“The Decatur Community Coalition sees itself as a resource that has made itself available to the city and we will be looking to ensure due diligence is applied to the implementation of the lofty language we have in the Community Action Plan and the police plan,” Denard said.

The plan also received pointed critiques from Chris Billingsley, a retired Decatur High teacher and Deanne Thomas with the Decatur Heights Neighborhood Association.

Billingsley said he opposed measures intended to combat racial profiling, like publishing information about the race of people stopped by police and the prominent posting of a departmental anti-racial profiling policy.

“I am opposed to those (measures) that emphasize racial statistics over police standards,” Billingsley said.

Thomas said the process was not as inclusive as supporters claimed, saying that her neighborhood association was not invited to participate in the discussions.

“It’s important to me that every neighborhood have a voice,” Thomas said. “Our organizations weren’t reached out to.”

The report contained recommendations the commission should act on immediately. They are:

– Establishing a Better Together Advisory Board

– Developing a means for addressing and receiving the concerns of community members related to issues of equity and inclusion

– Providing diversity training for city staff

– Providing resources for diversity training to community members

– Reviewing the city government’s structures and practices to ensure local government is equitable in its day-to-day practices

– Working with “a diverse group of citizen volunteers” to create a strategic, integrated citywide outreach plan to encourage more diversity on city boards, commissions and task forces

At the end of the meeting, Mayor Baskett suggested language for a motion to accept the plan.

“I would say something to the effect of, ‘I move we draw this process to a conclusion by accepting a plan that’s been presented by the group that was appointed to do this,'” Baskett said.

“Second,” Bolling said.

“I’m not making a motion,” Baskett said.

“If you were going to make it, that’s what you would say,” Bolling said.

“That’s what I would say,” Baskett said.

“I think we’ve gotten our point across,” Commissioner Fred Boykin said. The commission moved on with the rest of its meeting agenda.

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