The city of Lebanon is bringing forward a diversity, equity and inclusion commission to advise the city council, promote cultural awareness and provide guidance to create a safe and welcoming government and community.
Shaun Mulholland, Lebanon’s city manager, proposed the commission earlier this month. He says as Lebanon, which is 89.3 percent white, becomes more diverse, it’ll be important to have connections with different communities in the city.
“We think [the commission is] going to help us in being able to provide the service that we have to residents, [so] that we’re sensitive to the needs in different communities in the city,” he says.
The commission would include two city council members and seven residents appointed by the council. Mulholland says commissions like the one Lebanon is proposing are becoming commonplace in other parts of the country (in the proposal, commissions in Washington and Virginia are cited as examples.)
This proposal comes a few weeks after the passage of the state budget, which includes a provision that bans teaching certain people are inherently superior or inferior, or that certain people are inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, even if unconsciously.
After talking with city lawyers and the state Attorney General’s office, Mulholland says he doesn’t believe creating this commission would violate that.
“The concern is, areas they might talk about, things they might do, might run afoul of that,” he says. “The law is very vague, so it’s unclear how that’s going to be interpreted.”
Mulholland says he’s looking forward to guidance from the Attorney General’s office and the state’s Human Rights Commission, “because right now, it’s less than clear as to what we can or cannot do.”
City Councilor Karen Liot Hill says she supports the proposal and describes it as a natural next step in continuing local efforts to create a welcoming ordinance and conversations around racial justice in Lebanon.
“Everyone who lives in the city of Lebanon should feel that they have access to their government [and] should feel that they are included in the community,” she says. ”What we have heard over the last few years is that unfortunately, not everyone does feel welcome.”
Residents will have a chance to weigh in on the proposed commission at a public hearing on July 21.