When the Dubuque City Council voted unanimously in June to make racial equity a centerpiece of their discussion on setting city priorities, it was a positive step.
This week, though, those words became action when City Council members held a two-day “Black Lives Matter: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion” work session.
During the meetings, council members reviewed past, current and continuing city efforts to curb racial inequality and promote diversity and inclusion. Ten community partners and nonprofits working to advance social justice also gave presentations.
The council’s pledge in June showed their hearts were in the right place, but it was this action that really showed conviction. With
seven white council members sitting around the table, it was absolutely necessary to include more diverse voices in the conversation if the council is really going to move the needle on prioritizing racial equity in their goal-setting sessions in August.
Members of the Dubuque branch
of the NAACP, Dubuque Black Men
Coalition, the recently formed Switching Places Foundation and Friends of Fair Housing called on council members to create targeted action plans to address large racial disparities in income, wealth and graduation rates between Black, Hispanic and Pacific Islander residents and white residents in Dubuque.
If City Council members are going to make inroads into creating a more inclusive community, getting the right voices in the conversation was an excellent step.
Speaking of the faces around the Dubuque City Council table ... another decision this week by the same group had the opposite effect of the aforementioned broadening the scope of the conversation.
First of all, much credit goes to the 10 applicants who stepped up, willing to represent Ward 1 for the next year and a half to replace Brett Shaw, who moved from the city. The applicants presented an interesting choice for council members, ranging in age from 31 to 82 and with an array of leadership experiences and involvement in various aspects of the community.
Given the options, the council members went with the choice with which they were most comfortable: a known entity.
Kevin Lynch served in the Ward 1 seat for 12 years and knows the ins and outs of council work. It was that experience that council members referenced in backing him, citing his ability to get up to speed quickly and slip in seamlessly. Indeed, Lynch was a strong council member in his tenure, and no doubt he’s up to the task. Also in his favor, Lynch has no intention of running for the seat in 2021, so candidates will have an even playing field for the open seat.
But it’s hard to imagine that this council couldn’t function effectively with a brand new member who might not be up to speed on all issues. The council includes multiple veterans — and the newcomers of last year seem to be getting along just fine. The council defaulted to someone whose opinions they generally know and agree with, rather than hear a brand-new voice. And there were nine from which to choose.
Would it have been better to bring another female voice into the mix, with just one woman on the council? The second-place finisher among the council voting this week brought vast business experience and an Ivy League education.
How about the 31-year-old woman — when was the last time the council had a voice like that at its table? Has it ever?
How about the man who lost the seat to Shaw by a hair’s breadth less than three years ago? Would it have made sense to have the person who got 48% of First Ward votes cast last time complete the term?
In the face of an economic storm brought on by the pandemic, the council might have been driven by the need for experienced hands at the wheel, which Lynch no doubt provides. But if the council really wants to gain new perspectives in looking at issues, it will have to listen to new voices.
It sounds all too much like the beginning of a Stephen King book: Packages of seeds begin showing up in mailboxes all over the country. No one knows quite what they are or why they arrived in the mail.
If this were the fictional version, plenty of people would start planting the seeds. And horror would ensue.
But this is real life, and the unsolicited seeds seem to be coming from China. Officials don’t have many answers to this strange circumstance, but they do have one directive: Do NOT, under any circumstances, plant the seeds.
It doesn’t matter if it’s an invasive species or a killer tomato — this is 2020, a year where anything can happen. Let’s not find out.
If you get a package of seed in the mail, follow this advice from the U.S. Department of Agriculture: Contact your state Department of Agriculture at http://bit.ly/3jHcqee. “Keep (the) packaging and do not plant seeds from an unknown origin!”