Norwich City Council seeks to diversify boards and commissions
Norwich — A proposed City Council resolution calling for improving the city's effort to recruit minorities for boards and commissions turned controversial Tuesday after some aldermen attempted to delay action to refer the proposal to the city Diversity Committee.
The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the resolution, which states that “efforts shall be made to promote full community representation and encourage applicants from all backgrounds with the intention that appointments be representative of the diversity of the population of the City of Norwich when possible.”
The council's four Democratic aldermen — Council President Pro Tempore Mark Bettencourt, and Aldermen Derell Wilson, Ella Myles and Joseph DeLucia — co-sponsored the measure to increase efforts to recruit minority members to city agencies.
Bettencourt and Wilson said prior to the meeting that the issue came up during the fall election season. Democratic candidates made it part of their campaign platform to encourage the city to recruit more minority board and commission members.
Currently, the City Council’s Appointments/Reappointments Committee takes applications from online forms on the city website, norwichct.org, interviews applicants and makes recommendations to the full City Council. Some appointments are made by the city manager with City Council approval.
Boards and commissions are listed and described under the “Volunteer Opportunities” section of the website, with the application on the right side of the page.
Shiela Hayes, president of the Norwich branch of the NAACP, urged the City Council to support the resolution. She said she often is called by commission chairmen to ask about possible candidates. She said it's especially important to get younger residents involved in city government.
The vote was taken after Alderwoman Stacy Gould initially asked that the proposed resolution be sent to the city Diversity Committee first. But DeLucia said he hasn't heard of any meetings of the Diversity Committee and the council hasn't appointed any members to that committee in his two years on the council.
Mayor Peter Nystrom said the Diversity Committee last met in September 2018, and he said that's one reason the proposed resolution should be referred to the committee to get the committee to be "more engaged."
Bettencourt said he would consider that committee to be defunct, since it hasn't met in over a year.
DeLucia said the Diversity Committee is charged with attempting to recruit diverse candidates for city employment, rather than volunteer boards and commissions. City Manager John Salomone said even though that committee hasn't met, the city Human Resources Department continues to try to recruit a diverse city labor force.
Gould said she didn't think Norwich needs a resolution to say the city is a welcoming community seeking diverse representation on boards. "I don't think it would be too long to have them look this thing over and report back next month," she said of the Diversity Committee.
Wilson said it’s not enough for the City Council to sit back and wait for people to apply for vacant seats on boards and commissions, expecting residents to navigate the city website to find vacancies, download forms and fill out applications. He said aldermen and other city leaders should actively seek diverse applicants by sending lists to various civic groups and churches and setting up information tables at city festivals and events.
News releases could be issued occasionally, he said, and city officials also could host several community forums to explain the positions available and what those boards do.
“People can’t step forward if they can’t exactly know what opportunities are available and how to access those opportunities,” Wilson said. “When you have diverse representation on commissions, different viewpoints and diverse viewpoints, it allows for greater creativity and a deeper dialog on the issues in our city.”
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