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Critics say the timeline, charge of DEI task force won't be enough to bring change to Lake Oswego

PMG FILE PHOTO  - City Councilor Jackie Manz (third from right) speaks to citizens during a candidate forum last fall hosted by Respond to Racism and LO For Love where diversity, equity and inclusion were the major topics of debate.

The application period to serve on the City of Lake Oswego's newly formed Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) task force is coming to a close, but some of the City's most outspoken proponents on this topic aren't convinced that the timeline the City Council set of just six months will be enough to address all the issues that could surface.

The City Council created the task force with hopes to open the door for more community members — especially those of underrepresented groups such as people of color, women, young adults age 18-25, religious minorities, those differently abled and the LGBTQ community — to participate in local government. The effort also aims to bring in a more diverse applicant pool for job openings throughout City departments such as planning, parks & recreation, police and fire.

Residents, local business owners and community members at large have until Friday, June 21 to submit their application to join the newly formed ad hoc task force. Individuals selected for the task force will meet at least once a month for a total of six months. According to Deputy City Manager and Human Resources Director Megan Phelan, 17 individuals have applied to serve on the task force so far.

Lake Oswego resident and activist Melissa Fireside is one of those who called the City Council out back in February when City budget committee appointments sparked debate over whether the process was flawed after no women were chosen to serve as citizen members of the committee.

The conversation started a larger dialogue about whether access to

becoming involved in City government was as open and easy as it should be.

"This is a great start; we have to start somewhere and I hope that this is only the beginning of this conversation, but six months is a short amount of time," Fireside told The Review. "You don't build community consensus, change the culture and empower marginalized people in such a short amount of time."

Lake Oswego High School graduate and Respond to Racism co-organizer Bruce Poinsette — also the son of social justice and community activist Willie Poinsette — said he feels similarly to Fireside, particularly in that six months might not be enough time to identify exactly how deep community divisions run.

Poinsette and other members of the group's steering committee outlined this and other issues with the task force's charge in an open letter to the community published on Respond to Racism's website.

"Going into City Hall in itself can be intimidating for many people, especially if you're coming from a marginalized community and don't have any assurances that there won't be retaliation for speaking your truth," Poinsette told The Review. "I think there are a lot of people involved in this process who really do have great intentions and want to see this task force as successful as it can be, but don't necessarily understand the depth of these barriers."

The letter from Respond to Racism also states that they believe only having one spot for a person of color on the 12-member task force is a disservice to the racial complexion of the community which continues to become more diverse.

Those in the community who have taken a stand against racism have made news headlines over the past couple of years for their bravery in trying to weed out both outward bigotry and implicit bias, but the act of speaking out is scary, Poinsette explained.

Personally, Poinsette hopes that this endeavor is given the creedence it deserves rather than being taken as an opportunity for a photo and to check a box. He's hopeful that the task force's dialogue around these issues will be made public and show a need for its work to continue beyond the six-month period which they've been charged to create change.

"Ultimately, this task force is going to be a reflection of our collective vision and will to make substantive changes as a town," he said. "If we are not proactive and, perhaps more importantly, aggressive in our approach, it will be easy to cast blame on the mayor and current city councilors involved and then move on. But we will be in the same place we are today, only with a major public failure to discourage people from engaging in the process going forward."

Councilor Jackie Manz, who, along with Councilors Daniel Nguyen and Theresa Kohlhoff, was adamant this task force be created, said that she's aware that the six-month timeline might not be enough, but she believes there could be a path forward for the task forward to continue its work past the deadline if needed.

"If they get into this and there's not time enough to bring change, of course the task force can always be extended," Manz said. "In my professional experience (as a consultant), if we get into this — we're focused with a goal in mind and find we do need more time for x, y and z reasons — it will be easier than just writing a blank check. I think our aim is true and sincere, and we've never done this before so we can't say the actual amount of time that would be needed."

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