City & Government, Creswell

CRESWELL PONDERS SOCIAL JUSTICE: Council members pursuing formal statement

Tom Mulhern, executive director of FOOD for Lane County said federal contracting laws require posting “And Justice for all …” signs. “We are happy to put up the sign,” he said.EMMA ROUTLEY/THE CHRONICLE

CRESWELL — City leaders are taking steps to clarify their views on race, white supremacy and social justice after receiving a letter from a community member prompting the city to take a strong public stance. 

Council on Monday discussed what a resolution that speaks to equity and inclusion would look like in Creswell, and how it might extend beyond a policy. 

Shelly Clark of Creswell has worked for almost two decades teaching college students about social justice, power, privilege and oppression. She said that while reviewing city materials, she noticed that the city has a general message that it values all, but nothing specific.

“I believe that complacency and silence is violence,” Clark said in her letter to council. “I also know that I — as have many of the citizens of Creswell — have benefited from centuries of white privilege.”

Her letter requested the city overtly acknowledge: 

* That the City of Creswell believes that Black Lives Matter;  

* That there is a plan in place for the citizens of Creswell to peacefully protest; 

* That there is a plan in case a peaceful protest makes a shift away from peaceful; 

* That there is plan in place for regular review of any police force that is regularly serving in our city;

* That if an officer is receiving complaints, corrective action and training will take place;

* That the leadership for the city and any police force will regularly engage in training/education around issues of social justice, power, privilege, and oppression; and

* That the city is actively working to place and retain citizens of color in leadership positions.

“I think this (discussion) is a good place to start with the City of Creswell,” city manager Michelle Amberg said. “We haven’t talked about this. This is really something of importance that needs more time and consideration, and it needs to be done right.”

There is a need for this type of document in Creswell, councilor Kevin Prociw said.

“I recognize we have a racism issue in Creswell,” he said. “The number of Black people in Creswell is so few that the number is registered at 0, and Lane County as a whole is only 1.3%. This speaks to an issue that needs to be addressed; we don’t have the diversity here that we should have in Creswell, and there’s gotta be a reason for that.

“Equity as a whole is basically what we are after. It is not just enough to ‘not be a racist’ anymore; anti-racism is something to embrace, and I want to make it uncomfortable to be a racist in Creswell. That is what I would like to see.” 

On July 21, a contractor employed by the city quit because he did not feel comfortable as a minority in Creswell.  

Since moving to Creswell in 2017, R. Vicente Rubio taught free fitness, meditation and martial arts classes to seniors, veterans, children and displaced people at the Cobalt Center. He also brought an idea to city hall last year about a house-on-wheels project.  

Overall, city staff said, he was uncomfortable living here as a diverse resident. Staffers said that parents would make insensitive comments about him while they stood on the sidelines and watched him teach their children in the dojo.

In a 2019 interview with The Chronicle, Rubio said “I realized that being one of the few people of color in this town, that I stick out advocating for those who are disenfranchised, which I thought was very funny being in a highly religious area,” he said.

Rubio cited an incident when a city councilor scoffed at his presentation regarding displaced people. Afterwards, he said: “… the flak I was getting from people who I thought would understand this concept of ‘forgive’ and to always offer to those who do not have.”

Even with strong local family ties in Creswell and Cottage Grove, after three years, Rubio quit his role at the City this month and moved out of state.

In November 2009 Lane County Commissioners passed a resolution censoring hate speech. In February 2020 it passed a resolution denouncing white nationalism. In June it further passed a resolution in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

In considering Clark’s proposal, “I think that the statement that Black Lives Matter — while it is an important conversation to have and is an open point for the right thing to discuss — it is not comprehensive enough to encompass Black and indigious people of color,” Amberg said. “The language here matters; we could support BLM but I recommend we go further to include indiginous people of color.”

The council would like to see a professional host a virtual meeting in an open discussion about social justice and equity. “The City might be able to have a community panel, form a special commission or board to review and recommend training on racial sensitivity and social justice,” Prociw said. 

“About the social justice workshop … I’ll just say this: I think we need this training,” Amberg said. She has ordered the book “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo and suggested the City might be able to do a study around the book. 

“Part of this kind of leadership of this document goes back to the scandal with South Lane Fire chief John Wooten,” Knudsen said. “I do believe we are held to higher standards even in our private lives, it is not 100% private … I want the council to understand that, because I know the council talks about first amendment rights, but you’re gonna be held accountable for what you say. I want us to make good decisions. You’ve gotta take this to heart as a councilor — say it, believe it and then live it.” 

Knudsen agrees that a policy is not enough. “I don’t think an ordinance provides this kind of training. I want it to be an open discussion. I want to hear more stories about the issues in this community,” Knudsen said. “I want someone to come and poke us a little bit, open our eyes.”

“We don’t have a lot of oversight when the contract renewal comes up every year for our police,” Knudsen said. “It is a small enough police force that we know each other and communicate well but not having direct knowledge of a lot of things …. the idea of having a committee with more oversight would make it more comfortable.” 

“This is only gonna be the beginning,” said Creswell Mayor Richard Zettervall. “This will be an ongoing public topic until we decide what direction we want to go. I don’t know if we could have a policy adopted by the end of the year, but I would like to.” 

“The heart of the issue is hate. Period,” Amberg said. 

“I am not asking you to solve racism and centuries of white supremacy in a day,” Clark wrote in the letter. “A phrase that I use often with my students is that ‘You can’t turn an aircraft carrier 90 degrees without breaking the ship apart. The right answer is to make gradual but consistent course corrections.’ I believe that if we are intentional and focused on our outcome, that we can change our trajectory.”

The conversation will continue at the August work session. 



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