After a majority of the Kent City Council failed to approve a race and equity resolution, Mayor Dana Ralph decided to move the measure forward anyway.
Ralph issued a mayoral directive on Thursday to all department directors and city employees taking action on advancing race and equity initiatives after the City Council tabled a resolution on race and equity at its Oct. 6 meeting, according to a city press release.
“Addressing race and equity in local government and policing is critical and cannot wait,” Ralph said in the release. “I am disappointed that the City Council was unwilling to move forward a resolution on race and equity, while waiting for a more perfect document. Now isn’t the time to wait – we can always wordsmith a document but delaying action on this topic isn’t something I am willing to wait for. I applaud the leadership of several city council members for pushing for adoption of the resolution and immediate action.”
The council had been scheduled to vote on the resolution. But in a surprise to the mayor and others, council members Marli Larimer, Brenda Fincher, Satwinder Kaur and Zandria Michaud said they wanted more time to clarify the resolution before approving it.
Council President Toni Troutner and members Bill Boyce and Les Thomas each said they would vote for the resolution. At the end of the discussion, the council voted unanimously to table the matter.
“As the 10th most diverse city in the country we simply can’t kick the can down the road on such a critical issue,” Ralph said. “We must take steps today to ensure Kent is a welcoming place with a government that serves all residents equitably and with the respect they deserve. This directive doesn’t replace a much larger strategic plan we need to create. During the creation of that plan we will engage our BIPOC community to incorporate their vision into our shared plan.”
Council members Larimer, Fincher and Kaur issued a joint statement Thursday to the Kent Reporter in response to Ralph’s decision.
“We are disappointed the mayor is choosing to frame our tabling of the race and equity resolution as ‘kicking the can down the road’ on race and equity in Kent,” according to the statement. “This was a council requested resolution, but unfortunately, key edits remained notably absent in the final draft we were provided only late Monday. The statement as written Monday and released by the mayor today (Thursday) fails to commit the city to providing a mental health co-response model and transparent police data collection should the state Legislature fail to do so. These two issues are simply too important to the health, welfare and safety of all Kent residents to pass the buck on this responsibility.”
The statement continued.
“To be clear, we are not holding out for a perfect document, but it is incumbent on us as elected representatives to listen to our residents who told us very clearly on Tuesday that this document, even with amendments, was not a sufficient start,” according to the statement. “There was no deadline preventing us from taking more time and care to craft a better resolution reflecting Council expectations. Nor did it in any way impact the mayor’s hiring of an equity manager or executing on her strategic equity plan. So, the mayor’s sudden rush to issue this on her own is puzzling.
“We feel our BIPOC and other underrepresented residents deserve to be heard and recognized, and we look forward to working together with the mayor’s office to ensure the forthcoming budget makes actionable improvements in policing and equity in Kent starting with program-level transparency and accountability for the additional $16 million she’s committed to human services funding.”
Ralph’s directive calls for most of the items in the proposed resolution, including:
• The creation of a strategic plan on race and equity
• The creation of an equity manager position
• Review of hiring and promotion practices
• Race and equity training for all city employees
• The formalization of the police department’s diversity task force
• Review of police policies including use-of-force policies, duty-to-intervene policies and equity policies
• Adding co-responder models, use of force reporting requirements, data collection funding, and translation funding to the state legislative agenda
The mayoral directive will take effect immediately and be issued to all department directors and employees.
“I welcome City Council members to join me in taking a stand for our residents,” Ralph said. “We need to be clear that we are and will work to be an anti-racist city government. As elected officials we have an obligation to do what is best for our residents. The time for action is now and as the mayor, the buck stops here.”