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This was a statement that I read at the 5-6-2021 Town Meeting:
I, as I’m sure many of you did as well, had a sleepless night after Monday’s Town Meeting. I wish that all voices would have been allowed to speak. on Article 16, Line Item L91. My understanding is that over 20 people were waiting to comment when debate ended. I wonder if Town Meeting Members had known how many voices were about to be ironically EXCLUDED from the discussion on DIVERSITY, EQUITY, and INCLUSION whether they still would have supported the motion to Move The Question which effectively ended discussion.
On Monday night, I and many other Town Meeting members voted to, in essence, not fund the Director of Equity and Social Justice position IN ITS CURRENT FORM. I voted to support this amendment not because equity issues don’t exist – they most certainly do. In fact, I know firsthand that they exist in many MORE ways than the examples that are most commonly cited.
For example in schools, equity issues impact:
- the child who has food insecurities, who can’t focus in class because they are hungry
- the child who has financial insecurities and doesn’t have a computer or reliable internet access at home
- the child whose first language is not English
- the child who has dyslexia or ASD and can’t access a curriculum designed for neurologically “typical” students
- a METCO student who lives in one community yet spends their school day in a totally different community, a predominantly white community
- a student who is transitioning from one gender to another
- a child who is mentally, physically, or sexually abused, for whom school is their safe haven
- a child with a physical disability
- a child who has an emotional, behavioral, or cognitive disorder
Equity issues affect all classes and races; they are complex and often not obvious. Our school staff does an excellent job supporting the needs I cited, but more help is always better. These marginalized groups are the people in our community depending on Town leaders for help.
It is my opinion that placing a position as important as a Director of Equity and Social Justice in the library, outside of widespread public view, does a significant disservice to these marginalized groups. By its very location, it already signals ‘outsider’ status. We had an opportunity to validate these experiences WITHIN the structure of our town’s government and support their voices with the full weight of Reading’s Human Resources department.
In addition, placing the position in the library raises a host of unnecessary questions and doubts that could have been avoided – and that frankly distract and interfere with the important work of equity and inclusion. We have nothing to hide. Why then design a position to escape the protections offered by Open Meeting Law and evade the residency requirement of Reading’s Charter? This structure is unique from every other town in our area that has a Social Justice Director or committee in place. It’s not surprising this feels calculated and subversive and invites distrust and disagreement from many. Shielding this position from public oversight and accountability divides residents where there could be, and should be, no divide, and makes it impossible for many to support the position (even when they are inclined to support the WORK the position is doing!)
I see no valid reason to CREATE such friction around a topic as universal as human rights.
Alternatively, the position could have been designed in a way that GUARANTEED public accountability and oversight, a model which I believe would have obtained much wider-spread support for the future Director of Equity and Social Justice; I’m disappointed that wasn’t the path chosen.
If the School Committee can timely respond and attend to extremely sensitive and confidential matters while safeguarding the privacy of minor CHILDREN, certainly this Director and any accompanying advisory board could protect confidentiality while attending to human rights concerns under OML.
Library trustees, as you note in your FAQ document (Question #11), there are MANY ways to include diverse and marginalized voices who are not full-time Reading residents. I hope you will explore them and disallow the suggestion of an advisory board appointed by the employee (the “Reading Alliance for Equity and Social Justice.”) Creating an advisory board of non-residents that is conveniently exempt from Reading’s residency requirement (a bylaw that citizens overwhelmingly support), is NOT the best way forward and will only breed more mistrust and division.
As leaders in town, it is the responsibility of Town Meeting Members to advocate for and protect vulnerable populations. Setting this position up for conflict and questions fails those populations miserably.
As guardians of the town budget, it is also our responsibility to ensure good return on investment for taxpayers who voted us into office. Now that a paid full-time position is all but certain and the pressure is off, I call upon the Library Trustees to pause, go back to the drawing board, and sharpen this plan significantly—answer the outstanding questions—BEFORE launching the search for a Director. You have the opportunity and responsibility to do right by Reading’s most vulnerable community members, but that will only happen IF you design the position in a way that commands support, trust, and respect from the Reading community at large.
Red Gate Lane