Town Council weighs starting a community relations committee

Black Lives Matter
A Black Lives Matter protester faces off across Warner Road from President Donald Trump supporters Oct. 1, part of a series of protests. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)

A Black Lives Matter protester faces off across Warner Road from President Donald Trump supporters Oct. 1, part of a series of protests. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)

Image description
Supporters of Donald Trump gather in a parking lot before a Sept. 24 protest. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)
Gilbert Town Council is considering forming a community relations committee that could address racial and other issues in town.

On council direction, staff is researching ways to develop a type of such committee with plans to bring it back to council for further discussion, spokesperson Jennifer Harrison said.

A committee would be a successor to the Gilbert Human Relations Commission, which the town dissolved in 2017, but council members asked its scope to be better defined, a reason some cited for the HRC’s ultimate failure.

The first council discussions took place Sept. 15, the same night a racial justice protest was held outside Municipal Building I, where council chambers are. Several protesters also condemned the council during public comment for failing to act or make an anti-racism statement in the wake of competing Thursday night protests at the corner of Gilbert and Warner roads near town hall.

Black Lives Matter and a group that started as a Blue Lives Matter gathering have been protesting from opposite corners at the intersection, police said, but the protests boiled over into confrontations in late August.

Black Lives Matter members told council their group endured racist taunts, threats and even had some members assaulted Aug. 20, a night when two people were arrested. The size of the Thursday protests has been dwindling since then, officials said.

More than racial matters

While the committee could be established in part as a result of the protests and the town’s own initiatives to address racial justice, some council members envision the committee’s scope to be broader and more flexible than only racial justice.

Vice Mayor Yung Koprowski suggested the committee could be involved in areas such as outreach with police or with issues like the new ambulance service, open data and community education on performance measures, or community events.

“I’m interested to see what staff comes back with in terms of what can fall within this committee to make it very meaningful and long lasting, having the continual checkpoints,” she said. “Maybe it’s not a committee that meets formally every month; maybe it is less often but can still provide that avenue and very specific communication conduit to our residents for a variety of issues.”

Town initiative

Former Gilbert Mayor Jenn Daniels on June 2 called on officials and town members to listen to what was being said about racial justice in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died while in Minneapolis police custody May 25, sparking nationwide protests. Daniels then created the “Listen. Learn. Act. Amplify.” initiative. The plan started with the creation of Gilbert’s Listening Spaces, a series of forums that asked the community to share their stories, experiences and feedback with police officers, town leadership and local school districts.

However, public commenters at the Sept. 15 meeting said the forums have been ineffective in bringing about change and keeping local people of color safe. Koprowski, however, said she found the perspectives she heard from the session useful and hopes they can continue through the committee.

On Aug. 11, the same day that Daniels resigned as mayor, Bus Obayomi, who had lost an election bid to Town Council the previous week, spoke during public comment and asked council to bring back the HRC.

Since then, Obayomi has offered his own suggestions to council members and Town Manager Patrick Banger. He endorses the idea of the new committee.

Obayomi said he hopes the committee also would go beyond just racial issues. His own proposal called for the committee to address the protests but also outreach on community issues such as the ambulances or teen suicide and advancements that could, for example, support small businesses.

“This is something I’m passionate about,” Obayomi said. “I’m always about building bridges among communities and cultures and within the town as well. [It can be] a voice for the underserved, whoever they are.”
By Tom Blodgett
Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent 30 years in journalism in Arizona and is the editor of the Gilbert edition of Community Impact Newspaper. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he now serves as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.


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