Herrera: Keizer needs to be more welcoming

The Community Diversity Engagement Committee (CDE) has met five times since it was formed in January. Since then, it has lost its vice chair-person and was unable to form a quorum at the most recent meeting. City Council members held a work session June 13 to do a check-in with the committee and see how they could help, as well as to welcome the newest CDE members: Caridad Lee Brown and Neveah Music.

City Councilor Laura Reid, who serves on the committee, described some progress made on the CDE’s mission statement, but noted that it had not yet been finalized. Overall, she said she felt the committee was making progress deliberately, albeit slowly.

“Figuring out what we don’t know as a committee is a first step, which is something I think is reflected in the broader community,” said Reid, referring to the the CDE’s reliance on data that wasn’t yet available about the ethnic and cultural diversity in Keizer.

City Councilor Roland Herrera has been heavily involved both in establishing the committee and getting it started in its first few meetings, but his initial representative on the committee was Claire Snyder – who stepped down shortly after being nominated as the vice-chair. In the meantime, Brown stepped up to replace her on the council and attended the June 13 work group for the first time in an official capacity.

“I’ve been to these meetings before I joined this committee,” said Brown. “A lot of times, these committees meet and talk and then write minutes, but nothing happens. I want to be an active member.” She said there is a lot of un-cultivated diversity in and around Keizer to appreciate and connect with, and she sees the committee as a vehicle to make that happen.

Before the committee was established in January, Herrera traveled to Wilsonville to meet with their city officials and analyze their approach to a diversity committee, and returned with a recommendation for Keizer to hire a short-term consultant to help set up an effective program and get it started on the right track. No consultants were hired at that time and plans for the committee proceeded without one.

Wilsonville’s 13-member Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee (DEI) was established in January, 2021, and the city’s website describes the DEI’s function as “identifying and addressing systemic barriers to inclusion that exist within the City’s practices, processes, regulations, events and other initiatives.” Their program, only two years old, already has designated representatives reaching out to nearly every committee, board and association in the Wilsonville metro area.

Herrera said that here in Keizer, there had been resistance to the core goals of the committee from the beginning.

“Even the word diversity was a problem at first,” said Herrera – referring to a November 2021 dispute over the city’s official use of the word, which partially contributed to former City Councilor Ross Day’s resignation from city government.

“It wasn’t too long ago that Keizer had anti-gay stuff in our charter,” added Herrera. “You might have forgotten it, but I’ll tell you what – the gay community didn’t forget that.”

Herrera was talking about city’s 1993 vote to approve what became known as “Section 44” of the city’s charter, which stated that city officers “shall not make, pass, adopt, or enforce any ordinance, rule, regulation, policy or resolution that extends minority status, affirmative action, quotas, special class status, or any similar concepts, based on homosexuality.”

At the time, the Section 44 passed with a 55 percent majority of Keizer voters. However the measure was never enforced due to state legislation passed against such language in city charters and was removed by vote from the charter in 2020, partially due to the efforts of Herrera himself.

Herrera also briefly mentioned a motion he had made to officially condemn white supremacy in connection with the “Reawaken America Tour” at Volcanoes Stadium in April, which he said met with some resistance on the council.

“So that’s where we’re at,” he said. “I like the progress that’s going on here, but we have some work to do.”

City Council President Elizabeth Smith has also done some research on how to improve the effectiveness of the committee – she said she visited Beaverton and talked to some other local city representatives.

“Forgive me if it seems like I’m being a bull in a china shop, but I’m a doer, an action taker,” said Smith. “Version 1.0 is better than version no-point-0, so I would encourage you to start something – get one project on the radar.”

Smith encouraged the committee to “think big,” and offered a selection of ideas including reaching out to the neighborhood associations about what might be needed, from homeless shelters and warming stations to petitioning the city for access improvements for those with mobility challenges.

“Speaking from a sales perspective, you don’t know your clients,” she told the committee. “I know about the problems with the pandemic and the census – there might not be new data, but even using old data would be better than nothing.”

Smith echoed Herrera’s earlier suggestion for the city to hire a consultant to help set the CDE up and get it started on the right track, and said she would support city funding for that idea.

Mayor Cathy Clark said the committee should be asking if there is another community who is doing it better. “That is the challenge I would like to give to the committee,” she said. “There is a difference between city and community, and this is about making our community better.”

Herrera’s comments sharpened toward the end of the work group session as he tried to convince a seemingly-skeptical Clark that the city had a problem with how it is perceived.

“You don’t hear this, but I hear it,” Herrera said to Clark, “People see these other cities holding these big celebrations and so forth and they come to me with it – I mean I know you guys probably don’t attend a lot of Pride parties,” said Herrera.

“You can speak for what you’ve heard,” interrupted Clark. “Allow me the dignity to speak for what I’ve heard and what I know.”

“I just want you to know there’s videos out there with [Clark] and other folks in it and that community that sees that – they don’t feel welcome,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be a big Pride flag – whatever we do it just needs to show that we’re inclusive and welcoming,” said Herrera. “We need to do more.”

The committee’s July meeting has been cancelled due to a conflict with a city council session. Monthly meetings will resume in August.