Hillsboro council gives feedback on revised equity statement
Earlier this year, the Hillsboro City Council made it a priority to promote a more equitable Hillsboro.
City officials vowed to continue doing diversity, equity and inclusion training, and they developed an "equity statement" to articulate its commitment to treating all groups fairly.
At a work session on Nov. 19, city councilors wrestled with how and when the city will put the equity statement into practice. They debated the statement's word choices, discussed how to solicit more feedback from people of color, and considered how exactly the city will scrutinize its policies and operations. They also made final recommendations to how the statement should be revised.
City councilors will vote on a resolution to adopt the equity statement at their next meeting Tuesday, Dec. 3.
The statement has gone through multiple revisions.
After members of Hillsboro's "equity team" subcommittee presented an initial draft statement to the City Council on Aug. 6, the city conducted outreach on its website, on social media, and at four listening sessions at Hillsboro's two libraries and the Hillsboro Civic Center to receive feedback from the community.
City staff presented the feedback to the City Council in September, and councilors requested staff revise the statement based on the feedback.
Simone Brooks, assistant city manager and equity team member, said the feedback focused on three themes: "Clarity on the definition of equity; reflect the purpose of the statement in terms of its internal, rather than external; focus and reexamine terms and wording choices."
The seven-member subcommittee, which added four new members as part of the revision process, revised the statement by making the first paragraph a definition of equity.
At the Nov. 19 work session, City Councilor Olivia Alcaire pushed for the city to more clearly identify when an internal evaluation of equity will take place. She pointed out multiple parts of the equity statement that acknowledge Hillsboro's role in the marginalization of certain groups but don't reference specific policies or events.
"So my question is, after that paragraph, is what are we doing to ensure equal service outcomes?" Alcaire said. "Is the equity team going to be reviewing practices, or what's going to happen? And I realize this is just the statement, but these are the questions that I have."
Brooks said while the city doesn't currently have data to show the city's role in marginalizing groups, "we do know that there are disparate outcomes on a larger scale. And we know that institutions historically, government institutions are built upon a society that had preferences for a specific type of person, including white, male property owners, primarily."
City Councilor Beach Pace said Hillsboro must settle on an equity statement before officials further analyze how well the city carries out equity policies.
"When we're talking about what are we going to do exactly to make sure that people are treated equitably, I think that's after this statement," Pace said. "To ask exactly what policies we'll be changing, or what we'll be doing, I think it's too early."
Alcaire agreed, adding, "Down the road, we need to figure that out."
Councilors also debated how explicitly certain groups need to be identified in the equity statement.
A sentence in the city's initial draft statement read, "We must ensure that all people in Hillsboro experience a sense of belonging, prosperity, and happiness, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, or other individual identities."
The equity team used research by the Coalition of Communities of Color showing that "leading with race" in equity efforts maximizes impacts. But multiple community members asked the city to expand its list of groups in their feedback.
The equity team couldn't agree on whether to include religion in its list.
Multiple councilors were concerned that the list may never satisfy all groups.
"I hear you that some people are being persecuted for their religion, and I also think in the name of religion, people are persecuted," Pace said. "I don't think there's an easy answer to this, but I'm wondering if we lead more toward the 'other individual identities' because we could go forever and ever. Like we could say 'veterans,' what about 'combat veterans?' Where do we stop?"
The City Council ended up advising the equity team to keep religion in its list of groups.
Mayor Steve Callaway asked for religion to be included in the list as an acknowledgment of historic and current religious persecution.
"Religions have recently been the target of terrorist acts," Callaway said. "I think of Tree of Life in Pittsburgh a little over a year ago. I think of the attack down at Christchurch in New Zealand."
City councilors also discussed whether to use the word "historically" when the statement acknowledges the ongoing marginalization of people of color.
The initial draft statement read, "The city recognizes that people of color and other communities have been historically marginalized and excluded."
During revisions, the equity team removed "historically" and inserted "continue to be" in an effort to recognize the timeless nature of marginalization.
City Council President Fred Nachtigal argued the city needs to be explicit about historic marginalization.
"I think we're making a mistake if we don't acknowledge the historic bias," Nachtigal said.
The final draft of the statement reads that "people of color and other communities have historically been and continue to be marginalized."
Multiple councilors requested that city staff look for better ways to reach out to people of color when evaluating equity. They said 135 comments on the equity statement doesn't adequately include the community.
People can see the revised equity statement and read more about the city's revision process here.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to show that the city's equity statement subcommittee has seven members. The equity team consists of 15 members.
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