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Board hears update on diversity efforts

'We’re trying to fulfill the commitment to walk the walk'

BRATTLEBORO—At the Nov. 7 regular Selectboard meeting, Town Manager Peter B. Elwell gave the Board an update on his staff’s actions to support diversity, inclusion, and equity in Brattleboro.

In September, the Selectboard approved Elwell’s recommendations to make town government and the community a more welcoming place for all people, especially those traditionally underrepresented.

Some of those suggestions, Elwell noted, are long-term projects, requiring investments of time and funding.

“We’re seeing some beginning movement in those longer-term investments,” he said. One of those, Elwell said, is a proposal he made to the Selectboard that the town include in the budget funding to hire a human-resources professional to help further diversity in town staffing.

Some of his suggestions, though, “we could get at right away,” Elwell said.

“We’re trying to fulfill the commitment to walk the walk,” he said, and part of that is having town officials “be visible working with less visible groups working on these endeavors.”

Elwell said that includes municipal staff and elected officials attending events focusing on or celebrating diversity.

According to a report Elwell submitted to the Board, between Sept. 23 to Nov. 7, he attended 12 meetings or events supporting diversity.

Some of those include participating in the Root Social Justice Center’s fourth anniversary party, attending the Brattleboro Community Justice Center’s Circle of Understanding event, and taking part in the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity’s Vermont Vision for a Multi-Cultural Future conference.

Elwell also noted that he and Selectboard members signed a letter opposing the deportation of Mamadou Bah. Bah lived in Brattleboro after fleeing political persecution in his native Guinea, West Africa, and received temporary permission to stay in Canada by that country’s government after U.S. Customs officials threatened him with deportation.

Selectboard member David Schoales said the town should move faster to implement diversity and equity training programs for staff.

Elwell agreed, but noted he has received a variety of opinions from community leaders on how to move forward with training. He said the Selectboard can vote to budget for those trainings and send out requests for proposals from trainers.

“Sooner is better,” said Schoales, because it sends a message “that this town has made this commitment.”

Jim Levinson of the Brattleboro Committee for a Compassionate Community noted, “this has the potential for being a prototype for other municipalities.”

“We’re in it. We’ve gotten started,” Elwell said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #435 (Wednesday, November 22, 2017). This story appeared on page A1.

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