Since mid-October, selectboard members have been weighing the pros and cons of establishing a Belonging, Equity and Inclusion Committee after the idea was pitched to the board by community members.
After two months of talks, Town Manager Carrie Johnson said normal selectboard meetings were the wrong place for such extended discussions and would be better suited for a subcommittee.
“We need a really more productive or creative atmosphere to actually have this discussion,” Johnson said during the selectboard’s Monday night meeting. “Selectboard meetings are intended to have a 10-15 minute very brief executive summary discussion. … I’m thinking one or two members should start a subcommittee and start meeting separately and pushing this forward.”
The initial BEI proposal made by community members asked that the town establish a monthly citizen-led board that would advise the town’s government about initiatives related to belonging, equity and inclusion. Town officials pushed back against the idea by pointing out that the town did not have the resources, such as staffing, to establish another monthly committee besides its police advisory committee.
Since that time, selectboard members have floated the idea of working with a consultant to advise the town on BEI initiatives. Town officials cited the cost concerns associated with such a move, however, and now selectboard members are planning to examine a list of 12 suggested options that a town can do to promote inclusion, which was released by the Vermont League of Cities and and Towns.
During the proposed meeting scheduled for Feb. 28, the selectboard would have the time needed to look over and weigh each of the 12 BEI options proposed by the VLCT.
Such options include hosting a community conversation, re-examining the town’s website and tone, drafting a statement of inclusion and checking the demographic data of the town’s customers to see which populations are receiving services.
Selectboard Chair Brendan Deso said the town could invite planning commission members and town staff to take part in the meeting. Public participation would be available via Zoom.
During the session, Deso said the town could review the options proposed by the VLCT in order to see if the town has already instituted such programs and to consider if the town would like to pursue any additional goals laid out by the document.
“At the end of all the review, we could do an assessment of: ‘What can we tackle?’” board member Erin Creley said. “So we’re not getting into the weeds during the conversation, [we’re] just noting: ‘Okay, here’s where we need some work.’ And then at the end of doing that assessment: ‘ Okay, what’s the top priority?’“
Deso said the town has already completed a few of the VLCT proposals, such as designating an employee as the town’s point person for American Disabilities Act inquiries and complaints.
As for the date, Deso said setting the community discussion two months out would give the town plenty of time to prepare for the discussion and to engage with the community.
“We can make sure that we have a well-represented group, and it would give us plenty of time to get the information out,” he said.
Originally posted by the St. Albans Messenger at samessenger.com, by Josh Ellerbrock