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Lake Oswego's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force has been tackling equity in boards, commissions process.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Bill de la Cruz is the DEI Task Force facilitator and says discussions have been engaging.Lake Oswego's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force has been anything but silent. While the group initially paused its work due to the pandemic in March, it resumed roughly a month or so later as members had small, informal discussions in non-quorum groups via Zoom that focused on the recruiting process for the city's boards and commissions, which is currently underway.

"Now would be the time to provide some feedback about what the boards and commission process would look like since it's going through the process right now," said Lake Oswego's Management Analyst Charity Taylor. "We're having fruitful discussions about, 'how do we intentionally move forward?'"

The main goals of the DEI Task Force are to look at how to increase minority participation by diversifying people on the city's boards, commissions and committees, and exploring how to reduce barriers for people applying for jobs at the city.

Over the course of six months starting in February — though the task force will likely extend its timeframe due to the impacts the health crisis has had on in-person gatherings — the group is collaborating on how to approach the work they've been asked to do, create surveys, participate in focus groups to collect qualitative and quantitative data, and formulate a report to give to the City Council.

And so far, members say discussions are engaging and have gone well.

Bill de la Cruz, who was a member on the task force before becoming the group's facilitator, said they've been discussing how the city can attract diverse candidates to its boards and commissions. He has led groups of four to continue to have informal conversations.

"Everyone is still very much engaged," he said, adding that this week they put together a list of recommendations for the boards and commissions process for the City Council to consider. The task force is working with the city manager to finalize their recommendations and put together a presentation June 16 during the City Council's study session.

"I would say things are going well," de la Cruz said. "Our conversations are very open and very real."

De la Cruz has worked as a facilitator in a professional capacity for more than 20 years, and while he said the COVID-19 pandemic put a huge wrench in the group's progress and ability to meet, the conversations have been meaningful.

"I've facilitated some highly conflicted groups. This (group) is like a breath of fresh air," de la Cruz said. "There's not always agreement. We've had our own challenges in terms of conversations about racial issues and biases."

But he said it's important to let conflict be part of the process and recognize that the differences in opinions and ideologies are a challenge for not only the people on the task force, but the entire community, and part of the reason why the city is supporting this work. "They realize that these aren't easy conversations and they do create conflict … The real work for me as a facilitator is how do I create an environment where we honor all of the different ideological perspectives (and) allow for conflict to be a part of it," de la Cruz said.

DEI Task Force member Emma Burke said de la Cruz has been an excellent facilitator and she has enjoyed meeting in smaller groups virtually.

"I think it's really effective. Maybe even having the small groups is forcing more engagement," Burke said. "He's (Bill de la Cruz) really been keeping us on track."

DEI Task Force member Daniel McArdle-Jaimes said through their recent discussions, they've identified old rules and mandates outlined in the city's charter that may not make sense today.

"Our group begins to not only identify these things, but work with council as well as our city staff in terms of, 'how can we improve and expand on these so we are including more people and not providing more barriers?'" McArdle-Jaimes said.

No date has been set yet for the DEI Task Force to meet as an entire team virtually, though boards and commissions are now allowed to meet virtually in June.

The DEI Task Force will present an update in front of the City Council July 21.

Applications to serve on one the city's boards and commissions are still being accepted until June 30. For more information, click here.

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