City Council Remains Timid When Addressing Diversity

2 Oct

By: Marshall Kesterson

Members of the Morgantown city council voted unanimously to approve a resolution for adopting the “Strategic Plan for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion”. The purpose of this vote was to allow for further discussion and review of the plan before any final vote is made on the adoption of an ordinance for the city.

The plan, which can be found in the Oct. 1 regular meeting packet, aims to “[provide] a foundation for city management and administration recognition that diversity is a priority in all city personnel practices and decision-making.”

The Morgantown Human Rights Commission (HRC) proposed the plan to the council. They started work on the document in 2012 after the commission had been reactivated following the National League of Cities designation of Morgantown as an “Inclusive City” in 2006.

The Strategic Plan for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is dense, sporting 19 pages of definitions and conceptual framework, management practices and strategies for implementing policy. This makes it hard to argue that the plan isn’t well-rounded, with years of framework and scrutiny behind its back.

Jan Derry, the former chair of the Morgantown HRC and a civil rights advocate for people with disabilities, said in an interview, “what we’re trying to fight is the ‘good old boy syndrome’. The city has been run and managed by a large pool of the same people for many years. Our city is diversifying at a rapid rate and we’re leaving behind the input of the diverse population that we need to survive [as a community].”

In the 2014 Human Rights Needs Survey conducted by the Morgantown HRC, it was found that diversity in the city’s workforce was not representative of the actual diversity within the community. The lack of affordable housing in Morgantown was discovered to be a major issue, and likely contributes to the city’s high rate of homelessness and individuals living in poverty.

The report also found that being welcoming and supportive of gender identity was one of the greatest areas that Morgantown needed to improve in. Anti-gay attacks are not covered by West Virginia’s Hate Crime Law, meaning that many municipalities in West Virginia have needed to adopt ordinances that give their Human Rights Commissions the authority to investigate allegations of discrimination and charge violators.

The Municipal Equality Index (MEI) conducted by the Human Rights Campaign evaluates how states and cities rank based on the inclusivity of LGBTQ people. Morgantown’s MEI score has seen an increase since the Human Rights Commission was reactivated.

The city council did seem to be a bit too cautious when discussing the approval of the resolution, going as far as to discuss the issue of term limits and video recording of interviews stated by the plan. The reason for discussing these issues before voting on the resolution was unclear, and Fifth Ward Congressman Ron Dulaney eventually suggested that the issues be discussed out of the public eye after the meeting was over.

“The fear factor of community backlash and retaliation by a selective few people has dampened [the council’s] spirit,” said Derry.

The council is focused on creating a policy that works, and in doing so has become skeptical of nearly every word in the new plan. Discussion on the plan is sure to be long and intense, but focusing on small, irrelevant details will only make the process of adopting the plan more agonizing for the people involved. It will increase the time that the communities the plan is designed to protect will go unprotected.

Everybody in the community should be given the opportunity to contribute to the government of the city. This plan’s focus is the ensure that the opportunity is given.

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