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Old Lyme selectmen still won't consider racism resolution

Old Lyme — Democratic Selectwoman Mary Jo Nosal continues to be rebuffed by the two Republican selectmen after first asking them last summer to consider a resolution identifying racism as a public health crisis in town.

Nosal at Monday's Board of Selectmen meeting told First Selectman Tim Griswold and Selectman Christopher Kerr it's been 10 months since she first raised the issue, which she has brought up repeatedly since then.

She cited support from people who have spoken at meetings and made phone calls. She also referred to a petition submitted to the town back in August with 19 signatures.

"I think we're at the point where we need to put it on the agenda, we need to have a vote," Nosal said.

She asked for "substantive discussion" about the draft resolutions she submitted in order to come up with collaborative language the board "can support as a value statement going forward."

Griswold has said before, and said again after Monday's meeting, that he does "not subscribe" to the idea that racism is a public health crisis in Old Lyme.

Griswold told The Day there has already been "some discussion" on the issue when Nosal brought it up previously. He said he would not be adding the item to the next meeting's agenda.

He said he does not "want to retool" the draft resolution with different language because the premise would be the same.

"People say people in Old Lyme aren't racist, but there's a public health crisis. It seems to me you can't have it both ways," he said.

Some proponents of the resolution argue that they are not calling individuals living in Old Lyme racist, but that racism has been built into the system over time.

Systemic racism refers to societal policies and practices that result in unfair advantage for some people and unfair treatment of others based on race.

The draft resolution submitted by Nosal cites racism as a cause of segregation and inequities in areas such as economic stability, housing, education, physical environment, food security, employment, health care and criminal justice and policing.

Nosal's request for consideration came during the "other business" portion of the meeting, during which selectmen have the opportunity to talk about things not specifically laid out on the agenda.

She said putting the issue to vote would give the public a chance to hear the selectmen's concerns. It would also be an opportunity to talk about "another way we can accomplish the same goals," she told the selectmen.

Selectmen did not respond. Kerr immediately made a motion to adjourn.

State and local policy

Nosal's proposed resolution was based in part on a template created by Hartford-based Health Equity Solutions that is being considered by other communities across the state. New London and Colchester are among the 21 municipalities identified by Health Equity Solutions as having declared racism a public health crisis.

The draft resolution comprises eight action steps, including identifying racism as a public health crisis, focusing on fostering a "justice-oriented" town government, promoting equity in local and state policy, improving data collection, forging partnerships to confront racism, engaging "actively and authentically" with communities of color where they live; and identifying clear goals and objectives to assess progress.

The state legislature, meanwhile, has approved its own sweeping bill identifying racism as a statewide public health threat during this year's legislative session.

According to the Connecticut Mirror, the state House on June 1 gave final passage to the measure that will trigger a deeper exploration of the effects racism has on public health. Twenty-one Connecticut municipalities at the time had already declared racism a health crisis.

The bill was signed into law by Gov. Ned Lamont on June 14.

Nosal on Tuesday said she would like to see a committee formed that could take into account the statewide public health declaration.

"How is the state's initiative different from the resolution, where is it similar? I would welcome that kind of discussion," she said.

The significance of the local resolution revolves around the focus on making sure policies are set in Old Lyme without bias, according to Nosal.

"It's not addressing whether the town of Old Lyme is racist, but it's addressing that we as policymakers take this resolution as our value statement to make sure we're looking at all the policies with an equitable eye," she said.

e.regan@theday.com

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