Some Estacada residents question diversity and equity group
The Estacada City Council has unanimously approved the creation of a committee focused on diversity, equity and inclusion, but some community members questioned its importance in the aftermath of the Clackamas County Wildfires.
During a virtual meeting on Monday, Oct. 12, City Council candidate Joel Litkie said the group should focus instead on improving Estacada's disaster response and emergency communications plan, as well as consider the fire's economic impacts on tourism.
"I see on our (meeting) packets that come in about diversity issues and equality and things like that, which is so far down the line of what the city needs to be talking about right now," Litkie said. "I'm wholly disappointed in the council's choices and the city's choices, and what they want to talk about right now, when we have serious things to fix. If another disaster happened, we don't have a disaster plan that works right now."
In a meeting last month, city councilors and staff acknowledged that there were problems with the emergency system during the Riverside and Dowty Road fires, including delayed response times about evacuation levels and conflicting information coming from multiple sources.
City leaders are participating in a metro-wide wildfire economic recovery team, and the council plans on participating in an after-action review for the wildfires. Additionally, Clackamas Fire and other responding agencies are conducting a review that is expected to be completed in December.
The idea for the diversity, equity and inclusion committee came about during the City Council's Aug. 3 workshop after a listening session focused on racial justice.
The workshop occurred after two marches against racism in Estacada, during which multiple community members shared their experiences with injustice.
Estacada's diversity, equity and inclusion committee will consist of seven members. The group's responsibilities will include assisting with outreach and engagement for historically underrepresented groups, including LGBTQ+, Black, Indigenous and people of color, Hispanic and Latinx communities, youth, people with disabilities and those with low English proficiency; advising the city in developing a strategic plan to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion; providing community oversight and opportunities for the city to have greater accountability on racial equity and diversity initiatives; and reviewing current policies and procedures with an equity lens.
Along with Liktie, several additional community members questioned the current focus on diversity issues.
"I don't see that we have a racial issue too much," said Tim May. "We have a lot of minority businesses, and quite frankly a lot of the people that run those businesses are well respected in our community. If we have an equity problem I can agree with that. We do have some issues with economic discrimination in the city."
May added that he believes youth should be a bigger focus.
"Frankly, we have kids in our schools that are hiding bottles of liquor in their lockers and doing the drugs and have no place to hang out, (and) we're sitting here discussing equity and inclusion, but those (kids), that's our future. We need to be worried about their equity and inclusion, more so than minority groups that don't necessarily exist per se," he said.
Donald Allen Jr. thought the resolution should have more clarity prior to going into effect.
"I think that's just jumping to a conclusion rather quickly. I think they should have good conversations about it and finalize it after they've really put down what's going to happen. Even the ones who have put this together don't seem to have a good description of what they're talking about," he said.
Councilor Kimberlee Ables acknowledged that emergency response is an important topic and said that an equity lens could be a helpful addition to the conversation.
"I agree that all of the things that you listed are critically important. I don't think that they need to happen on different tracks. I don't think we have to choose one or the other," she said in response to Litkie's statement. "I think talking about diversity, equity and inclusion as we move forward will help us build better disaster and communications plans."
Mayor Sean Drinkwine spoke to the value of an effective emergency plan.
"I should be focusing more on some of these emergency situations that we are in right now," he said. "I will try to do my best to get these on the docket as soon as possible so that we are having those discussions."
City Council President Katy Dunsmuir said the conversation about diversity and equity is an appropriate one for the city to have.
"In the last couple of months, I've heard a lot of accusations about how Estacada is a racist town. I look forward to this committee being formed, because either this committee is going to find the conclusion that Estacada is not really a racist town, in which case we can easily dissolve this committee if we find no purpose in it," she said. "If it doesn't come to that conclusion, then it'll end up benefiting our city in a way that helps us move forward into the future and involving more people in the conversation."
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