Stop the harm: 1st Asheville Equity and Engagement Council meeting OKs reparations request

At the first meeting of Asheville's new Equity and Engagement Committee, members discussed the second recommendation from the reparations commission.

Stop the harm: 1st Asheville Equity and Engagement Council meeting OKs reparations request

ASHEVILLE - At the first meeting of the city's newly-formed Equity and Engagement Committee, its members recommended that the full council authorize next steps to follow an ask from the Community Reparations Commission ― to stop the institutional harm of Black residents.The recommendation comes after difficulty receiving data and ongoing racial disparities urged further action. The same day, Jan. 17, Buncombe County Commissioners heard a similar briefing.'The data was not forthcoming that the focus areas needed to offer database recommendations back to City Council and to county commission," said reparations commission Chair Dwight Mullen, addressing council members Sheneika Smith and Kim Roney at the committee's virtual meeting.More:Water outages: Asheville chose to cut off the south from water; Melton made the call"And so, there were many reasons for it: redundancy, duplicity, complexity of the questions and the availability of the information, and so we thought rather than shotgunning it from five different areas of concern, that we should focus it in one area to answer our questions."The new committee is comprised of three members of Asheville City Council — Smith, Roney and Sage Turner.

Turner was not in attendance.Final say falls to Asheville City Council at its Jan. 24 meeting.The Equity and Engagement Committee was formed by a Nov. 15 City Council resolution and updated the scope and composition of council committees, which had remained largely unchanged since 2006.Among the most significant impacts was the formation of an entirely new committee ― Equity and Engagement ― and the expanded scope of the Public Safety Committee to include the environment.Previous coverage:Roney denied spot on safety commission request by mayor; Asheville police advocated for omissionMore:'Slap in the face;' Asheville Reparations Commission balks at proposed timeline changesFirst, stop the harmAt its first meeting, held Jan.

17, the committee discussed an immediate recommendation made by Asheville's 25-member Community Reparations Commission.The recommendation, the commission's second, unanimously approved Dec. 5, was first titled, "Stop the Harm: the Cessation, Assurances and Guarantees of Non-Repetition of Institutional Processes that lead to Racially Disparate Outcomes."It requests an official third-party audit of both the city and county to ensure compliance with federal and state laws, regulatory bodies, codes of conduct, court orders and consent decrees confirming that further harm against Black residents has ended.It also calls to stop any ongoing harm due to intentional and unintentional policies, programs and practices.'We are expected to do this work, to look at reparations and ways of correcting past harms, while the harms are still continuing to happen,' said reparations commission Vice Chair Dewana Little.More:At Asheville MLK Prayer Breakfast, a family's story of fortitude in the face of racismThough some data has been made available since the commission's impact focus areas workgroups began making requests for information, Little said an outside perspective is essential in moving the process forward.'There is a lot of distrust of the data we are going to receive, given that we are receiving it from the perpetrators of the harm, like that's the reality," Little said. "The audit is a way for us to kind of ease some of that concern around the data."More:How many people are homeless in Asheville? 2023 point-in-time count gets underway soonThe workgroups, which cover criminal justice, economic development, education, health and wellness and housing, are tasked with offering recommendations to the full commission, which will then, if approved, put them before council and the county commissioners.Little emphasized the importance of including language about actually stopping the harms once found.

Mullen reiterated this concept of immediate "cessation," noting issues, such as the vast opportunity gap between white and Black students in Asheville's schools and highway construction that will impact legacy neighborhoods, which spoke to continued disparities."They were ongoing," Mullen said of the harms.More:What students want teachers to know about Asheville's achievement gapMore:What does reparations mean? 8 months into process, Asheville still finding its wayEquity and Inclusion Director Brenda Mills brought the recommendation to the committee, along with Mullen and Little. She said City Council and Buncombe County Board of Commissioners are being asked to consider adoption of a resolution authorizing staff to develop a scope of work that will lead to the selection of a firm to conduct the audit.If approved, city and county staff will work with the reparations commission to develop the scope of work, select a firm and review and prioritize remediation opportunities.There was some discussion about what details should be included in the resolution or the scope of work. Mullen, a retired political science and Africana studies professor at UNC Asheville, said efforts must be made to ensure the inclusion of Black women, as he feared discussions of race would exclude gender.

He also said examinations of public policy must include the internal workings of local government, not just the disparate outcomes themselves.Later that day, during their briefing, Buncombe County Board of Commissioners also discussed the specifics of the planned audit. Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara said it sounded like the audit would take place in two phases, and reparation commission representatives agreed.'Phase 1 would be this audit that focuses on the question of compliance with federal and state laws, regulatory bodies, codes of conduct, et cetera. Sort of a more technical, legalistic assessment that will determine whether there's any noncompliance that's currently ongoing,' Beach-Ferrera said.'This Phase 2 would be identifying whether there are … past or present policies or programs or practices that contributed to these disparities, and that would include both quantitative and qualitative research tools.'Commissioners seemed generally in favor of the audit and will vote on the resolution at their Feb.

7 regular meeting.City Council will consider adoption of the resolution Jan. 24. According to a timeline presented by Mills, the city hopes to select a firm to conduct the audit in the spring, with recommendations in hand by summer 2023.1st meeting of Equity and Engagement CommitteeThe city's newest council committee is intended to review policy updates and make recommendations that "ensure fairness and equity" in the provision of city resources, according to its intended scope, presented Jan.

17 by Assistant City Manager Rachel Wood.Wood is the city manager's office liaison for the committee, and Mills and Communications and Public Engagement Director Dawa Hitch will be the primary staff support.More:Answer Woman: What happened to the city's $74M in bond projects? 2023 deadline?More:Answer Woman: Zoës Kitchen closing, Cava incoming. Where's Asheville's Mediterranean food?Among the policy topics the committee will focus on is reparations, neighborhood planning, support issues pertaining to people with disabilities and LGBTQ considerations.Roney suggested a number of items for future discussion, including emergency and disaster response protocols and climate justice initiative outreach. In light of the recent water outage crisis, Roney said she heard some community members, such as the deaf and hearing-impaired, were not met by the systems available.

She also asked that translation services be considered heading into City Council's intensive budget cycle and input sessions.'I'm hoping to bring some examples of where we know there are gaps in communication. ... Do we have a way we can start to plug some of those into our work plan?' Roney asked.General Assignment Reporter Christian Smith contributed to this report.Sarah Honosky is the city government reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network.

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