|North Adams Council Seeks to Be More Inclusive in Decision Making|
|By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff|
01:01AM / Wednesday, February 12, 2020
|Three city councilors are requesting training for councilors and administrators on equity and inclusion and creation of a statement expounding on those principles. |
The mayor reminds the audience that Saturday is the annual Winterfest, being held on Main Street.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — City leaders are considering the creation of a working group to better understand how local legislation may be affecting a broader swath of its citizens, especially those underrepresented in decision making.
The request was brought forth by City Councilors Lisa Blackmer, Benjamin Lamb and Jessica Sweeney, and referred to Council President Paul Hopkins.
"I'd like to respond to this at our first meeting in March, just so I have some time to think through the structure of this," he said.
The councilors said they were inspired to look deeper into how decisions at the council level affect different populations within the city by the council's own resolution two years ago
to become more inclusive in decision making and by workshop at the recent Massachusetts Municipal Association convention lead by a representative of the National League of Cities.
"This was not just created out of thin air," said Lamb, adding that while councilors may try to keep in mind folks from different demographics or income levels, they may "not necessarily be fully embracing kind of what would be equitable in terms of helping everybody operate at the same level, because we know that just applying everything equally does not mean equitable."
The council in 2017 had adopted a resolution declaring North Adams to be "a safe and inclusive community" but the three councilors thought local government should be more proactive in ensuring that vision was being practiced into everyday decisions.
Two members of the audience spoke in favor of the working group. "I'm really excited to hear about your discussion about inclusion and equity," said Alicia Canary of River Street. "Yay."
One of the examples they put forth in their communique was the idea of curb cuts at crosswalks that while complying with the Americans With Disabilities Act are also beneficial to all residents.
"Legislating with an approach that takes diversity, equity and inclusion seriously is not only legislation supportive of underrepresented people, but it is legislation that is good for the entire City," they wrote.
The two areas they want the working group to consider is a workshop program for the council and city administrators on how to build an understanding and awareness of "important aspects of diversity, equity and inclusion, in the context of our duties and responsibilities"; and to develop a "statement of equitable practice" that would be considered a "significant commitment and component of our oath of office."
"We're thinking about how we interact with people. Some people have had more training than others in their day jobs. So I think that was also part of it, too, to look at how we approach issues and how we think about and how we interact with people that are not necessarily part of a set group, and to get away from the us-versus-them and to be more inclusive," said Blackmer. "I think that it's more of an approach of how we want to approach our jobs."
Lamb referred to a training on poverty by Berkshire Bridges that opened his eyes on issues that he thought he had a good grasp, particularly in terms of how taxes and fees are applied.
"It really does put a different lens on stuff when it comes to making sure to include those voices and consider them," he said.
Sweeney, new to the council this year, said networking groups like the one proposed can also make a difference in "undoing" some past actions by the city that may have been disproportionate in supporting -- or not supporting -- different groups.
"This is a small small step toward all of us coming together and being a little bit more aligned in our efforts and coming from the same base of knowledge," she said.
The letter states: "Each of us has committed to being a representative of the people of North Adams, and we commend every person who has taken on this role and the responsibilities it carries; from the founding of North Adams through today. But as we move further into a new year and a new council, it is upon us to do the work needed to take meaningful and well informed steps to being truly equitable in our legislative responsibilities going forward."
In other business:
• A communication on the process for requesting opinions from the city solicitor from last year was postpone to the meeting of March 10 to allow the new General Government Committee time to review.
• An order on adopting the state Berkshire Scenic Mountain Act was postponed to the second meeting of February. Lamb said the Community Development Committee had recently received answers to questions it had sent to the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission that will be reviewed by the committee on Feb. 20.
An ordinance on amending fees
was postponed to the second meeting in March, although Finance Committee member Wayne Wilkinson said he anticipated there would be several more meetings to go through the list of outdated fees.
• The council approved the annual bond levels for city officials at the following amounts: city treasurer/tax collector in the amount $250,000; assistant city treasurer at $62,500; and city clerk at $15,000.
• The council voted to publish and pass to a second reading a recommendation by the Traffic Commission for 10-minute parking on a section of Summer Street near the Ashland Street intersection. Councilor Jason LaForest was the lone no vote; Councilor Marie T. Harpin was absent.
• The council set the presidential primary election for Tuesday, March 3, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at St. Elizabeth's Parish Center. The deadline to register is Wednesday, Feb. 12, until 8 p.m. in the city clerk's office.
A communique from City Councilor Robert Moulton Jr. about the condition of the Hoosac Mill was referred to the mayor's office. Moulton said he was concerned about reports of more bricks falling from structure, which suffered an interior collapse during major snowfall
several years ago. Mayor Thomas Bernard said he would have information about the building's condition at the next meeting.
• A communique from the mayor to declare the former Jarisch Paper Box Co. property on American Legion Drive as surplus property to be sold was postponed at his request because he said further information was needed before taking that action.