Nearly a year has passed since the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, but civil unrest and tough conversations on race and discrimination have continued across the country.
Closer to home, Fairview Park leadership wants to continue those difficult conversations and look for ways to make the city more welcoming for all. During the April 12 City Council meeting, selections were finalized for its new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Coalition, a nine-member group of resident volunteers.
The committee doesn’t yet have an official start date, but is expected to correspond and figure out a meeting date this month, according to Mayor Patrick Cooney. After 21 applicants were interviewed over the course of three council meetings between late February and mid-March, five picks were made by council vote and four by Cooney.
Council’s choices were Carolyn Benion, Heidi Lang, Heather Schneider, Peggy Schauer and Matt Hribar, while the mayor’s selections were William Eyman, Jennifer Kramer, Felicia Munoz-Davenport and Bunda Russ. Cooney’s administrative assistant, Kathleen Fayen, will assist the group by drafting public notices, maintaining meeting minutes and performing other clerical work as needed.
The meetings containing the interviews, as well as the selection process, were live-streamed via Zoom and the city’s YouTube channel and can still be viewed there.
“Thank you to the council, the mayor and the applicants for conducting more than five hours of interviews,” said Ward 4 Councilwoman Sarah Wering, who, along with council President Michael Kilbane, first proposed the idea of the committee in September. “While we were not able to appoint every candidate, I found that each interview contained valuable clues for how we can identify inequality in our city and take steps to mitigate it for the future.”
“The city was fortunate to have more than 20 individuals submit applications for this coalition,” she said. “As we interviewed the candidates, it became increasingly clear that each one brought skills and attributes that were relevant to the committee. Narrowing down the candidates to the five that we picked was a very difficult decision.”
The role of the coalition will be to meet and form recommendations to promote diversity and inclusion in the community. Its members will each serve two-year terms and will be eligible to be reappointed after that. It is expected to meet at least once a month for the first six months, then will be able to decide on the frequency of meetings after that initial period.
Cooney and the city’s administration will provide synopses of each of its departments and allow the committee to explore what it can do better, if such opportunity exists.
“I don’t have anything specific that I anticipate for them to do,” Cooney said. “Talking to the people I’ve appointed, I’m just giving them the freedom to look at our operations, look at our community and see what recommendations they come up with.”
The idea for the group evolved out of conversations among city leadership following Floyd’s killing last May and the nationwide protests that ensued. In June, several speakers shared their stories of encounters with racism in the city during a council meeting.
Starting in the fall, council passed legislation forming the new committee, which was somewhat based on the nine-member Anti-Racism Task Force started in Lakewood last July.
“We had a lot of qualified people (apply), and I appreciate their interest in wanting to help,” Cooney said. “I thought things came together well. I thought the process was thorough and I’m happy with the results.”
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