Council work group begins plotting path of DEI work

Despite some contentious moments, a group of three Keizer city councilors laid out a partial path forward as the city seeks to make progress on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

Councilors Roland Herrera, Elizabeth Smith and Laura Reid met for the first time as the Community Diversity Engagement Work Group Wednesday, June 16. The group, along with city staff members, spent most of the time brainstorming possible paths and parceling out assignments for the next meeting. The work group will, eventually, make recommendations to the council at-large about how to proceed.

Whether to hire a consultant to help guide the city in DEI matters became the first major topic.

“I want our brand to be inclusive, not ‘The Keizer Way’ or whatever. A consultant would help us do this and it would be timed well with the hiring of a new city manager,” Herrera said.

Smith backed the idea as a good investment, but Reid worried about where the city would find the money. City Manager Pro Temp Tim Wood suggested that an expected share of federal funding tied to COVID-19 could free up some resources to pay for a consultant.

Smith had researched how Beaverton and some other cities were handling DEI issues as models, noting that Beaverton’s effort had been divided into several paths, “arts, gardens, services and engagement, cultural inclusion, mediation and dialogue and neighborhood associations.”

Neighborhood associations, which have had precipitous drops in attendance in recent years, were an avenue she would like to see the city invest more time in.

“We should find out if there is anything [the city and council] can do to reach out and build their resources,” Smith said. Councilors agreed to do more research into the other cities’ efforts and submit them before the group’s next meeting. Smith planned to delve deeper into Beaverton, Reid will be looking into Monmouth and Dallas, Herrera will examine efforts in Oregon City.

“Make sure to ask about what efforts have been most successful and what the pitfalls were,” Smith said.

Smith also suggested scheduling “listening sessions” either as part of neighborhood association meetings or independently.

“I want to make sure that we are going out instead of just inviting people in,” Smith said.

Herrera, who has championed youth inclusion in civic matters alongside marginalized groups, said he would like to ask the Keizer Chamber of Commerce to add a youth award to its annual First Citizen awards. Additionally, he suggested that city councilors become more involved with McNary High School’s large Latino Club.

After developing plans headed into the group’s next meeting, scheduled July 21 at 4 p.m., Reid asked if there was anything the city might do to recognize LGBTQ+ Pride Month before it ends June 30.

“I was thinking particularly about the reader board out front and what our policies are with that,” Read said.

Deputy City Recorder Debbie Lockhart, who is in charge of the messaging on the board, said the policy thus far has been limiting topics to city meetings and events. A policy change would rest in the council’s hands.

On two occasions, Herrera and Reid briefly sparred over how the city should approach the conversation going forward with Herrera wanting some acknowledgment of the history behind the need to do DEI work. Reid wanted to approach it through a lens of positivity.

“I think the approach that we are stuck [in the past] isn’t helpful. I think we have to acknowledge the work that has been done and build on that,” Reid said.