Lake Oswego City Council moves toward creating a diversity task force
Just weeks after adopting a resolution affirming Lake Oswego as a welcoming and inclusive city, city councilors have doubled-down on their commitment to improving diversity, equity and inclusion by prioritizing the formation of a new task force that will help inform the City's decision-makers on issues of race, sexual identity and disabilities.
The task force — one of a series of goals established at the council's annual retreat earlier this month — is the latest in a series of moves designed to make the City more mindful of how it operates. It's also a chance, community members say, for the City to build on the momentum created by Respond to Racism and LO for LOve, two grassroots groups that have become key players in the advancement of social issues on a local level.
"I'm excited things are moving," says Respond to Racism co-founder Willie Poinsette, whose organization was founded in response to a racist road rage incident in July 2017. Since then, hundreds of people have attended the group's monthly meetings.
For Poinsette, the creation of the DEI task force is a step in the right direction. She was one of 18 community leaders and City officials who visited the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles last year, and she believes that experience was a turning point for many to open their hearts and minds to creating a dialogue around equity, diversity and inclusion.
She's hopeful, she says, that the momentum will continue with the establishment of a City task force.
"There are some things that aren't working (as good as they could be), but not everyone has the time or the will to step out there and be the one that starts to speak about what could be made different in Lake Oswego. It's very public, and it takes time to do it," Poinsette told The Review. "So it's nice to see, from a City perspective, that there's a city manager, assistant city manager and city councilors who are championing this cause."
The council initially rejected the idea of a DEI task force at its Jan. 12 retreat. But after some persuasion from Councilors Jackie Manz and Daniel Nguyen, a second vote found the group almost unanimously in favor of creating an advisory group to help them discuss how the City can improve its understanding of DEI issues and adjust the way it operates.
"It will need to be narrowly focused. We can't do it all at once, and any sort of cultural shift will take time," Manz says. "My idea is to look at the organization of City government. What that will entail specifically, I don't know. I wish I could say that I have a big plan, but that's for the task force to come up with."
Poinsette agrees, adding that she's happy to see that some in City Hall are already working toward improving operations from an organizational standpoint. Specifically, she points to Assistant City Manager Megan Phelan, who also serves as human resources director, as someone who has already begun to think differently, seek new training and take extra steps to ensure the City's hiring practices are improved.
"I really like that Megan has been on top of the HR piece," Poinsette says. "She's been going and getting training outside the city, looking at how other places are recruiting people. They've implemented a new system to do video interviews. It's about taking those extra steps to find people, and then making sure you can accommodate them and not leave them alone."
That network of support for people in Lake Oswego who might feel marginalized or left out of the discussion is important, she says, and during the council's retreat, Nguyen was able to use his own experience to convey why that is important for the council and other City leaders to consider.
"Being the 'diversity candidate,' I want to be careful that's not all I'm about. But as Jackie was discussing and describing the issue, I felt I had to say something," Nguyen said. "We cannot continue to operate in a vacuum and pretend that a group of white men and women — and one person of color — can understand the struggle of what it is to be a racial minority, disabled or LGBTQ in this community. So as we are making decisions, we have got to be able to have an advisory group as a sounding board so that we can say, 'Here's what we're thinking. Can you help educate us on this?'"
Both Poinsette and Nguyen believe that the City does a good job overall of considering all of its stakeholders from different backgrounds. But that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvements, they say, in areas that are hard to understand without having lived the experience.
Poinsette, who is also a member of the Lake Oswego School District's 22-member DEI advisory committee, said she'd like to see both Nguyen and Manz serve in some capacity as members or council liaisons to the task force. She expects that recruitment of the task force's membership will be more than just an application; instead, she says, she hopes it includes a vetting process to bring in people who will approach the issues with an openness to all of the nuances in what can be a difficult conversation.
Nguyen said he is willing to work closely with the task force to bring a new perspective to the council's decision-making process, but he wants to make sure it's done with intention and purpose.
"This sends a message to the community that we do care, it's not just lip service," Nguyen said. "I think it takes it beyond that first step of adopting the resolution, and we can't stop there."
The council will formally approve its list of priorities and goals for 2019 at the regular meeting on Feb. 5. City staff will then hammer out the details of how the new DEI taks force will work and how to recruite members.
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