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New partnership with OCCAT to improve inclusivity across all departments within City Hall

PMG FILE PHOTO - Gresham has hired a diversity and equity consultant firmThe city of Gresham has signed a contract with a third-party team to provide diversity, equity and inclusion services for city employees.

City Council voted unanimously Tuesday morning, Nov. 17, to bring on Organizational Cultural Competence Assessment and Training (OCCAT) — a group helmed by Dr. James Mason. The team will establish citywide policies in concert with council; assess existing conditions across all departments; and create a report on what can be improved moving into the future.

"I'm honored to be selected, this is very exciting work," Mason said. "In Gresham, we can lay the groundwork on what other municipalities may consider moving forward."

The 7-month contract is for $75,000. OCCAT was selected from a group of 11 proposals, with city staff narrowing the field through a series of interviews.

"What resonates with me is you said to take the path of reason and logic rather than emotional reactions," said Mayor Karylinn Echols. "The work will be completely imbedded throughout the organization."

OCCAT was formed in 2019 as a way for large businesses and governmental bodies to identify equity issues within their organizations. The services offered will range from a cultural audit of the city of Gresham to strategic planning and recommendations on ways to move forward.

Part of the work will be contacting current and former employees who may have faced some sort of discrimination while working for the city of Gresham. The consultant team comes in the wake of a series of allegations of systemic racism within City Hall, headlined by Deputy City Manager Corey Falls penning an internal letter that his "reception into the city of Gresham has been, at best, dismal."

Falls went on to write that it was "very clear to me that those in (leadership) were not going to accept or support a black man in a leadership position."

Much of his concern was from his treatment he felt he received while working for the Gresham Police Department. Falls said his ideas and suggestions on how to bring the department into the 21st century were routinely ignored or dismissed. Those assertions were strongly refuted by spokespeople with the police department, including Chief Robin Sells.

"I am not a racist — I do abhor lazy people who get paid for not doing a job they are hired to do," Sells wrote in reference to Falls in an email to council earlier this year.

During several city council meetings, Gresham leadership has been pushing for an outside consultant to determine how widespread diversity issues are within City Hall. The goal is to address any other employees who may have similar concerns to those of Falls.

Part of the partnership with OCCAT is to create an environment where the city can better attract and retain a diverse workforce, create a culture of inclusion, and serve communities of color and underrepresented populations.


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