Without any vote at a July 13 meeting, City Council set aside a proposed resolution declaring racism a public health crisis in Avon Lake until the public is able to provide more input into the discussion.
Legislators have been holding their meetings via Zoom because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The nature of virtual meetings means that public participation is limited, council President Martin O’Donnell said, so he felt it inappropriate for council to proceed with what he said social media showed had become a controversial resolution.
He said after the meeting that he wanted to make clear Avon Lake will not tolerate hate crimes.“It was important to me we send a message,” he said.
Council’s safety committee likely will revisit the resolution in the fall, when he hopes it will be easier to gain widespread public comment, O’Donnell said.
Responding to the one public question posed electronically during the discussion of the resolution, Mayor Gregory Zilka said there have been no hate crimes in the city in recent years. Zilka proposed the resolution, along with council.
“Obviously, we live in very different and difficult times,” Zilka said. “It started with demonstrations and reactions to certain things that happened around the country. Mr. O’Donnell and I thought we needed to make a statement.”
The administration and council president worked with Law Director Gary Ebert to craft a resolution beneficial to the city, Zilka added.
Giving the public more of an opportunity to weigh in on the issue is the way to proceed, said Ward 1 Councilwoman Billie Jo David.
“I think it’s really important to know that this is not being done because we’re guilty, because of anything that occurred here in the city,” added Ward 2 City Councilwoman Jennifer Fenderbosch regarding the proposal of the resolution. She agreed this is not the appropriate time to act on that resolution.
The proposed resolution reads in part “the administration and city council of the city of Avon Lake wish to declare racism a public health crisis and would like to commit to improving the overall quality of life of our community and the communities of color, business owners and visitors.
“Systemic, institutional racism and discrimination causes extensive harm to all members of the community, the resolution continues. Racism causes “disparate outcomes in many areas of life, including housing, economic opportunity, infant mortality, employment, food access and criminal justice.
“Government leaders have a responsibility to lead with anti-racist intention. Avon Lake safety and service forces support and continue to actively resist racism and work with residents and lawmakers to improve all related policies and practices.
“The City of Avon Lake is committed to equity and social justice for all citizens, including racial equity, inclusion and diversity in all aspects of … government and recognizes the need to reach out, listen, and learn from each other so we can identify where change can be made and how we can make it,” the resolution concludes.
Eight action steps the city could take to combat racism are mentioned, including Council recommitting to engaging the community in substantive dialogue on racial issues and to adopt appropriate policies. Those policies need to be concrete and intended to bring about real change, officials said. The resolution called for city officials to work with the community to make improvements, take a stand against racism and renew a focus on social justice and equity.
Another action step calls for the city to identify activities enhancing diversity and ensuring anti-racism principles throughout the city. Avon Lake will further continue to advocate locally and through, for example, the Ohio Municipal League, for policies relevant to racial issues.
The 2010 U.S. Census states 0.5% of Avon Lake’s 24,500 residents are Black. Approximately 2.6% are Hispanic or other minorities.
Deborah Moore is co-owner with her husband of Avon Lake’s Autobahn Extremist, a Porsche repair shop. While she is of Indian descent, Moore said because of her dark complexion, she very often is labeled as Black and has experienced prejudice as a result. Her husband is of mixed descent.
“Have we experienced racism as a business?” Moore asked. “Absolutely. And we have for (many) years.” She added she has repeatedly heard potential customers being advised on the merits of taking their expensive cars to be repaired by “someone from the hood” or similar commentaries.
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