To promote social justice and equity, the city of Olympia is preparing to launch a new commission that will hear and resolve complaints of racism, as well as help the city to draft equitable policies.
On Tue., Aug. 31, the Olympia General Committee held a discussion with the commission’s Founding Member Workgroup on the preferred recommendation to establish a new advisory commission. In a presentation, Olympia Strategic Planner and Performance Manager Stacey Ray shared that the commission’s primary purpose is to “support the city in dismantling institutional racism and all forms of oppression.”
The decision to launch a new commission was formalized on August 11, 2020, following a recommendation made by the General Government Committee to the City Council and related discussions about the creation of what was being called a “human rights commission” in July 2020. (See seven related stories.) Based on the committee’s suggestion, the workgroup is tasked to collect community feedback, research, and draft a recommendation for the new commission’s name and scope.
Ray noted that the members of the workgroup identify as having come from historically marginalized communities, including Anthony Markland, Megan Matthews, Joslyn Nelson, and Rusty Shekha.
A member of the founding group, Matthews explained that the commission serves as the city’s response to the increasing need for more representation. “People wanted to feel like they have a voice in government,” she said. Matthews continued, “we believe that government decisions should be made in collaboration with the people and the community as equal partners, and will no longer be made for the community.’
Tuesday's meeting included Ray, Markland, Matthews, Nelson and Shekha as well as consultant Meg Winch; city council members Yen Huynh, Dani Madrone and Renata Rollins; city manager Jay Burney and equity and inclusion manager Olivia Salazar de Breaux.
For its name, the workgroup proposes to call it the Social Justice and Equity Commission and covers complaints and policies within the City of Olympia. Its roles will focus on three major aspects, investigation and mediation, advisory, and outreach.
Investigation and mediation
In terms of mediation and investigation, Matthews explained that the commission will have the authority to investigate claims of racism within the city limits, as well as the ability to respond and resolve these incidents.
Matthews shared that this came as a result of the growing distrust between the government and marginalized communities. While the commission will primarily deal in resolving complaints between residents and city officials, Matthews added that they will also cover interactions between individuals. “Mediation can play a critical role in getting the truth and developing ways to reconcile harm that may have occurred,” she said.
An advisory role
For advisory, the founding member shared that the commission will provide policy, planning, and recommendations to the city council on decisions that can have a potential impact on the marginalized sectors of the community. Matthews shared that this step is important since these sectors “would too often shoulder the brunt [of these policies] in the past.”
Aside from filling quasi-judicial roles, and helping in drafting policies, the new commission also aims to reach out to community members and educate the public on issues involving social justice, and equity.
Currently, the workgroup is in the process of drafting its preferred option. For its next phase, the group is scheduled to present a final recommendation to the city council on Tue., Nov. 9, 2021.
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