The writers of a City Council resolution denouncing discrimination say it is intended only to reaffirm rejection by the city’s elected officials of any societal prejudices.
They also are quick to state they do not believe Avon Lake is a racist community.
“But to believe there is absolutely no racism in Avon Lake is just naïve,” said Ward 4 Councilman David Kos, the author of the anti-discrimination measure. “We do not live in a bubble. We have the same issues every other community has.”
Racism was only part of the resolution, Kos added. He said it also denounced homophobia, xenophobia, age discrimination, sexism and other forms of prejudice. Legislators unanimously passed the resolution Oct. 26. During that meeting, several residents spoke out strongly against it.
One speaker stated there are few minorities in Avon Lake because it is expensive to live here.
“I find it stunning that kind of comment was made out loud,” Kos said.
The opposition made various further assertions, for example, arguing the measure could attract government-supported housing to the city. One opponent claimed the resolution could block local religious leaders from speaking against homosexuality.
The pastors of several Avon Lake churches contacted by West Life said they had not heard of the resolution. The comment of the Rev. Charles Strebler, pastor of Holy Spirit Catholic Church, was typical.
“I haven’t seen it, so I can’t make any intelligent comment on it,” Strebler said.
The Roman Catholic Church long has opposed homosexuality.
While Kos authored the antidiscrimination resolution, Councilman-at-Large K.C. Zuber wrote a companion piece creating a new city board, the Affirmative Action Commission. The ordinance creating the new commission updated 1985 legislation that put in place the Community Relations Board, he added. To the best knowledge of any local officials, that board never convened, Zuber said.
The Affirmative Action Commission is to consist of Law Director Gary Ebert, Finance Director Steve Presley and Human Resources Director Mary Siwierka along with whatever legislator chairs council’s human resources committee, currently Zuber.
Council also is to appoint two residents. Both Kos and Clerk of Council Valerie Rosmarin said in selecting those people, officials will follow the same procedure used to fill spots on any of its boards or commissions.
Those interested are invited to send a letter and a resume to the attention of the clerk’s office, at City Hall, 150 Avon Belden Road. The positions were to be advertised on the city website beginning Monday and mentioned at the City Council meeting planned for that evening.
Legislators will likely look for people with human resources or similar backgrounds, Kos said. He previously mentioned he received a few letters of interest from city residents even before council formally created the commission.
In response to opposition claims, Ebert, Kos and Mayor Greg Zilka all stated the new commission gives the city no additional powers, with Ebert adding the board has no standing to arbitrate civil or criminal matters.
For example, the commission cannot arbitrate disagreements between neighbors. Police and/or the courts would continue to handle such issues.
The commission’s primary mission will be to monitor City Hall, ensuring it is complying with Americans With Disabilities Act objectives, fair hiring rules and similar initiatives and laws, Kos said.
Legislation calls for the commission to meet at least once annually, though it is free to do so more often. When the commission will first meet and how often it will convene after that is up to the still unnamed members of the commission, Kos said. He added there is no set timetable for naming of commission members. Residents on the commission will be unpaid volunteers.
Avon Lake is hardly alone among Westshore communities in trying to address racism and related issues.
Fairview Park is considering creating an Inclusion and Diversity Coalition. The idea was first brought to City Council by council President Michael Kilbane and Ward 4 Councilwoman Sarah Wering at its Sept. 28 meeting. The task force is unlikely to form before 2021, though the city is putting together the legislation to make it happen.
In Lakewood, City Council created a new, nine-member Anti-Racism Task Force, which will advise Mayor Meghan George on racial inequity and similar issues throughout Lakewood. George last month won council approval of her four appointments to the board and on Nov. 2 council filled the remaining five seats.
“It’s important for me to work with our community members and look at ways we can address these issues and better our community,” George said.
Her office stated the hope is for the board to meet before the end of the year, though the upcoming holidays may make that difficult.
West Life reporters Alex Kamcyc and Chris Voloshuk contributed to this report. Contact them or story author Tom Corrigan at 440-871-5797.