Six members of the mayor’s inclusion panel resign in frustration

Schor puts council on hiatus as secretive equity meetings continue

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(This story was updated at 9:25 a.m.)

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 23 — Frustrations are building among members of the Mayor’s Inclusion and Diversity Advisory Council after Mayor Andy Schor sidelined the group earlier this month and told its chairman to suspend its meetings until sometime next year.

As a result, at least six members have resigned — including four in the last two days. The city’s website lists 13 members, including four of those who have quit.

The panel penned a fiery letter to Schor last week after he told its chairman, Randy Watkins, to cease all meetings and combine forces with the newly launched (and much more secretive) Mayor’s Racial Justice and Equity Alliance.

The members of the original workgroup contended the suspension of their meetings — which could last until September 2021 — would only work to “inhibit and halt progress made by the council to address diversity in the city,” according to the letter, obtained by City Pulse this week.

“They have asked to have one unified effort for the city, and to have the MIDAC pause meeting and have the MIDAC members join the MRJEA advisory committee and workgroups,” Schor explained in an emailed response to the Advisory Council’s letter. “The issues of MIDAC will also be the issues of MRJEA, so the expertise of the MIDAC members will be very valuable.”

Schor’s first executive order as newly elected mayor in 2018 was to establish the advisory council. Until this year, it was the only appointed mayoral advisory board reporting to Schor specifically on issues like discrimination and racial justice in the city.

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death and amid a continued call for police divestment, Schor announced in July that his newly formed “Racial Justice and Equity Alliance” would be tasked with examining many of those same city policies and racial biases for at least the next year.

Plans posted online suggest a racial justice and equity plan will be developed until at least January 2021. During that time, the original advisory board will be temporarily paused. Schor, however, is encouraging its members to participate in workgroups with the new Equity Alliance.

That alliance includes more than 40 people — all appointed by Schor — who will work in tandem with attorney and public relations specialist Teresa Bingman, who is being paid $63,000 to serve as a consultant for Schor’s administration. All of the members of that alliance have been asked to sign “confidentiality agreements” that prevent disclosure of their discussions.

The recent letter argues that the “closed process” has only worked to build up the same barriers which the alliance is charged to tear down, leading to “mistrust and problems of accountability.”

“Secret closed-door meetings with a signed letter of confidentiality cannot foster open and frank communication about racism in America,” the letter states. “Racism should not and will not be resolved by an elite group of individuals behind closed doors. Cabinet members and consultants should be stakeholders at the table and not baton holders controlling the process.”

Schor responded: “Conversations were requested to be kept between the members, in order to have a free flow of information. The individuals on this committee are volunteers and many are private, and may not feel comfortable sharing thoughts and ideas as freely if their personal comments are in the news media. That is the reason Bingman asked for confidentiality.”

“Once the recommendations have been decided on by the workgroups and the Advisory Committee, and made to me, all of the recommendations will become public,” Schor added. “And people will be free to share their own thoughts on the discussions and that product.”

The Advisory Council also monitored diversity in terms of gender, sexual orientation and accessibility for those with disabilities. Mark Eagle, a board member who resigned last week in frustration over the directive from Schor’s administration, said the group was also forced to pause an Americans with Disabilities Act compliance study as a result of suspended meetings.

Continued tensions among members of Schor’s original advisory council have already pushed at least five of its members to resign in recent months — including four in the last two weeks: Eagle, Clara Martinez, the Rev. William Lugger, Jason Peek, Manuel Delgado Jr. and Jennifer Carrera.

Carrera resigned in July. Eagle, Peek and Martinez left the Council yesterday. Delgado quit today. Their overarching complaint: Schor isn’t listening to the Advisory Council’s recommendations.

"We've been trying to work with Andy to make sure the process is inclusive and they've totally shut the door," Eagle said. "The alliance isn’t very inclusive, and that made a lot of our members uncomfortable. It didn't include other segments of the population. We can’t afford to just sit back and put LGBTQ issues, for one, on the backburner for a full year. It just didn’t make any sense.”

(Schor said that those issues are now also expected to be addressed by the Equity Alliance.)

Members complained earlier this year about a lengthy list of recommended reforms, including the creation of an internal diversity and inclusion office, that were shelved by Schor for months. They also claimed the mayor rolled out his latest plans without input from the advisory council.

“We were displaced from that process. Our contribution as a committee has been described as being basically complaining and not positive enough,” Carerra wrote in her recent resignation letter. “Addressing racism and inequity is not going to be comfortable. It’s not supposed to be. Our responsibility is to communicate what the community wants and needs and advise the Mayor on how to meet those needs. We are not here to make the Mayor comfortable.”

Schor, for his part, has said he responded positively to the Council’s proposal for a diversity and inclusion coordinator in an email sent last year but that that email never made it back to the Council members. He didn’t intentionally ignore the suggestion, he said. And budget constraints in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic only knocked it lower and lower on the city priority list.

“I thought I had responded to those things in February, but either they didn’t get it or I didn’t send it. Then, we had the shutdown in March,” Schor said in July. “I thought communication was getting better. I’d like to see this Council work alongside the Alliance on a lot of these issues.”

Schor also said he plans to elevate his original advisory council to a permanent city board after the Equity Alliance finishes up its planning process, putting it in charge of implementing a long-term plan when the 40-member alliance eventually dissolves within the next year, he said.

"I greatly appreciate all the work done by members of the Mayor’s Diversity and Inclusion Council, and they have all been invited to be part of the Mayor’s Racial Justice and Equity Alliance efforts which will craft our racial justice and equity plan for the city,” Schor said today.

“Racial justice is a social emergency right now, but we can't just address the emergency, we have to be committed for the long term,” Schor added in a statement. “MRJEA will be most effective if the Council can help put their findings and recommendations into practice.”

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