CRESWELL — After pushback from segments of the community, Creswell City Council on Tuesday nixed its discussion on an equity-and-inclusion resolution and committee in the Friendly City.
With tensions high as a result of the ongoing pandemic, wildfires and an election season, councilors said people were too overwhelmed to tackle a social justice statement.
“I believe it’s very poor timing of the city to try and push this resolution through at a time of heightened racial and equity division in the country right now,” said resident Michael Pierron, who wrote into this week’s meeting.
Councilor Martha McReyncolds Jr. agreed that the time is not right.
“I take to heart the fact that all of our last good nerves are being worked right now … my pitch is to drop it. Folks are not ready to have this discussion,” she said.
Council president Amy Knudsen said the volume of feedback was the most she had seen in her four years on council. Online reaction to news stories generated hundreds of comments, including reactions to the equity discussion with violent rhetoric.
Approximately 18 people wrote in to the council to express an opinion.
The resolution draft states that the city recognizes Black, Indigenous and other People of Color (BIPOC) have suffered inequalities and renounces those practices; is dedicated to building a strong and vibrant community that promotes kindness, compassion and respect for everyone; that an equity commission be created; and that the city commits itself to embracing diversity.
The resolution garnered applause from Lane County Commissioners Heather Buch and Pete Sorenson as well as House District 11 Rep. Marty Wilde.
“We did an equity resolution on the county level a while ago,” Buch said, who teleconferenced into the meeting. “It is important for the county to move forward on equity work. It is unanimous across our board. We have people with all different political ideas, ideas on what equity means to them, and we have all come together. I know this is so very important for the nation and we know things start local.”
Rep. Wilde said that, “It takes a conscious effort to seek out other perspectives in order to make good policies that work for everyone. I see this resolution as a step in the right direction.”
Others did not see the resolution as a positive move, however.
“I foresee the death of this town, slowly, if not quickly, if (this resolution) were ever enacted,” said community member Amy Martin. “Protect Creswell, for everyone from all walks of life. What you propose will destroy it.”
Some see the resolution is an inflated response from the council.
“As many are saying today, ‘Keep Eugene’s politics out of Creswell. That’s why we moved here,’” said community member Omar Bowles. “That is not to say that some inequities don’t exist here, but it is so minute that it should not be inflated into something it is not.”
Others said they feel like the city is blaming them.
“People like myself read this (resolution) and feel attacked,” community member Bobby Roberts. “I read this and feel less welcome … We are constantly feeling attacked these days. It’s only a matter of time until we stop allowing ourselves to be attacked.” Roberts suggested the “white” be removed from the verbiage that condemns white supremacy and white nationalism among other forms of hate.
“My concern is (the resolution) doesn’t condemn ‘black privilege’ at all,” Roberts said.
Community member Amy Martin said that, “To bring division and finger pointing of any kind within this community is a mistake … If we truly have racist laws in place, yes they need to be changed. I would like to see these laws myself, as the label ‘racist’ is being inaccurately placed upon many different subjects of all kinds.”
McReynolds said that,“For all the folks taking (this resolution) personally, that is a sign we need to have this conversation.”
Most members of the council expressed surprise at the volume of community reaction.
“I was surprised, very surprised by the harsh reaction and the polarized views of our community,” said Knudsen, who is running for mayor. “Our original intent is honorable … this (resolution) is a big statement that says we are here to listen to you, whoever you may be. And that pushes some buttons.”
Creswell mayor Richard Zettervall said he would not have dreamed that talking about equity could cause such a reaction.
“It is really hard for me to understand,” Zettervall said. “I support resolution and the draft of the equity commission. The intention is to make a statement that we have to embrace equity not just on a personal level, but on an institutional level because we have to do everything with affirmative action plans and all of that involves equity, every single thing we do.”
“If Creswell wants to embody the tag line, ‘The Friendly City,’ then we have work to do,” said Shelly Clark, who is running for city council in November.
Others offered support.
Community member Kate Anderson said that there are those who oppose the resolution, believing that it is an admission of one’s own racism. “I see it, however, as a timely and appropriate statement of our belief that human decency compels us always to reflect on the past, always to look inward, always to seek to be better, always to strive to do that right thing,” Anderson said.
Community member Anne Sheldon said that while the resolution will likely not change those “entrenched minds, its passage will give notice that the decent people of Creswell do not condone racism, bigotry, violence and discrimination against any class of people. Being kind and inclusive costs us nothing but it has many rewards.”
Knudsen said the virtual meetings are a hindrance. She said information is easily misconstrued, and agreed in-person discussions are perferred.
“This is my lesson learned that a big ticket item like this needs a public participant process that is broader than it was in the past. This is too big,” said councilor Kevin Prociw, who also is a mayoral candidate this November.
McReynolds said that if Creswell does not get on board with equity, it will miss out on grants. “Some social service boards have been notified that until we can get more diversity on our boards, grant funding is not going to be as easy to get for Creswell. We aren’t going to get support from the outside world unless we acknowledge some of its metrics, which include a vocal stance on inclusion and making it a flat playing field for everybody.”
Prociw said that the irony isn’t lost on him that, in the middle of an equity discussion, the community found itself so divisive.
“I do feel that the hearts of the council were in the right place, the intent to do the right thing was here, that voting ‘no’ on resolution is not the end of the discussion,” Prociw said.
An emotional mayor Zettervall said he hopes the next group of councilors and mayor will pick it up in the future.
“I hope this continues forward,” mayor Zettervall said. “I hope the future mayor and council will be able to move the dial and get this to work for our future.”