A group of Asheville residents urged Asheville City Council to put weight behind a series of recommendations aimed at emphasizing racial equity and inclusion.
The suggestions came from members of a blue ribbon committee established to make recommendations to City Council regarding the creation of a new Human Relations Commission.
City Council took no action on the recommendations Tuesday. Mayor Esther Manheimer said the information would go to a council committee that handles city boards and commissions for review and potential action. Council members thanked the committee for its hard work. Councilman Keith Young, a strong proponent of a new Human Relations Commission, said the “extensive breadth and depth” of the committee’s work was commendable.
Committee Chairwoman Dewana Little read the proposed mission statement for the Human Relations Commission. Here it is:
The Human Relations Commission strives to improve human relations with priority on racial equity in Asheville by partnering with communities and agencies in an effort to better promote and ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion. The human relations commission works to identify and address all forms of individual, institutional and community level discrimination through education, advocacy and policy recommendations.
The committee suggested the commission be comprised of 15 diverse residents, including at least six African-American members, two LGBTQ residents and two Hispanic residents, all with staggered two-year terms.
The Human Relations Commission would focus its work on four areas, according to the committee: providing a forum to allow the public to voice complaints; engaging the community around programs and policies; promoting equity in public safety, including working with the Asheville Police Department on issues; and promoting equity through extensive educational opportunities.
Little told City Council that the committee was also recommending the creation of a new city government office for equity and inclusion. Kimberlee Archie, the city’s new equity and inclusion manager, would oversee that office and report directly to the city manager, Little said. The committee was recommending that the department have a staff of three people, Little said.
Archie was hired in the summer of 2017. She’s a member of the city’s Communication & Public Engagement Division, which is led by Dawa Hitch. Archie’s annual salary is $80,000.
During a public comment period, other residents spoke up on behalf of the blue ribbon committee’s recommendations. Ashley Cooper, who told City Council that she attended every committee meeting and was its note-taker, asked council members to take the committee’s suggestions seriously. And Kim Roney, who ran for Asheville City Council in last year’s elections, echoed the sentiment, telling council members that bringing Archie in line with other top city departments would signal its seriousness about the issue.