In a recent Citizen's View article in the Lake Oswego Review, unnamed members of the Respond to Racism group stated that the City Council was "ill-equipped to lead anti-racism work." Racism is a national issue that I take very seriously, and one that requires open and respectful dialog to build understanding and awareness. At the last Council meeting, over 2 1/2 hours of public testimony was devoted to that issue — but even more people wanted to have input. Even though we already had a large agenda of City issues to address, the Councilors agreed to have a special meeting to address those other issues and provide the opportunity for more public comment on racism issues. Yes, I was a bit frustrated that we were not able to address all of the agenda planned for that meeting, and I was criticized for that. I should not have expressed my frustration and I hold myself accountable for that.
What I find surprising is the notion that our Council does not care about diversity, inclusion and equity. We are committed to honoring racial diversity and are continuing to act on that commitment — not just talk about it. We have passed 2 resolutions, one in 2017 and one in 2019, expressing in no uncertain terms our support for those ideas. A year ago we modified our selection process for boards and commissions in an effort to recruit more people, and a more diverse group, to apply. We made one of our goals for this year to make more progress in the DEI field. About 6 months ago, we formed a group of 10 citizens with diverse backgrounds and interests to make recommendations to us on how to increase diversity on our boards and in our applicant pool for jobs. That group will be meeting with Council this month, and we have expanded their charge to get more information on DEI issues. We are very proud of the DEI group and the focused work they have done.
Several members of our Council and police staff have been to training at the Museum of Tolerance, and we all are going to have additional training within the next week. On our Council we have two women and four males, one male being a person of color. We also have three white males, none of whom are "young." All were elected after an arduous campaign where their views were vetted by the public.
Still, without any inquiry into our background or our life experiences, we are being told that we are unqualified to do this important work. According to these unnamed writers, that is not good enough because this issue, in their words, "should not rest in the hands of those who have not dived deeply into dismantling racism and building equitable systems. And to be clear — this describes pretty much every white person in this country." It seems we are being judged by our age and the color of our skin. We need to stop the rhetoric that inflames racial relationships. None of us is perfect, but we must find ways in which culturally diverse people can respect one another, and work together to achieve a brighter, healthier and more fulfilling future — for everyone.
Kent Studebaker is the mayor of Lake Oswego.
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