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Diverted diversity

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I'm writing to set the record straight in the aftermath of City Council's vote last week to withdraw Councilman Darryl Glenn's diversity initiative.

The initiative was unanimously approved two weeks ago, then unanimously withdrawn at the May 23 council meeting. Between those votes, a number of news articles appeared, criticizing the council's action and applauding Mr. Glenn's leadership and his efforts to do something about diversity in our community.

Mr. Glenn has been quoted as saying the press misrepresented his initiative and that the council was unwilling to follow his lead due to political considerations. The news coverage has for the most part ignored what really happened leading to the withdrawal of Mr. Glenn's so-called diversity effort.

In the past two weeks, the council realized that: The effort was poorly researched; there was virtually no public process preceding the votes; there was only one individual supporting the initiative before the first vote, and no support from those attending the day of the second vote; there were organizations included in the proposed membership of the committee that were not contacted asking for their support; there were organizations excluded and specifically not invited to participate; the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, one of the 13 proposed members, asked not to be included; the membership of the committee was designed to exclude more diverse organizations than it included; and spokespeople for some minority groups were upset they were not included.

In the first vote, the council, including myself, trusted that Mr. Glenn had done his homework and had rallied support from those organizations he proposed for membership. The first vote on the ordinance was unanimously approved, as it appeared to have support and it was the right thing to do. In retrospect, I do not believe we should have voted to approve the initiative on the first vote without the public process and involvement that we assumed had taken place. The good news is that the council is required to have two readings and vote twice on any ordinance.

During the two weeks between the first and second votes, citizens and organizations came forward to enlighten council members. We discovered the existence of the Colorado Springs Citizens Diversity Forum, created to address diversity issues in our community and the community's image. This forum was created by more than 30 citizen and business organizations in this community. It is inclusive, with representation from most diverse groups, including those excluded by Mr. Glenn, and welcomes membership from all diverse organizations. The intent of the forum is to develop and recommend actions the city should consider to address the diverse needs of our community.

Unfortunately, when criticism of his initiative surfaced and the shortcomings were identified, Mr. Glenn reacted by issuing a press release to modify his original proposal to exclude identification of the 13 specific members. He then levied criticism at the council and the press for misunderstanding and not supporting his original intent. Then, before the second vote, he changed his mind and asked the council to approve the ordinance exactly as it had been worded for the first vote.

Why did the council unanimously vote to withdraw Mr. Glenn's proposed ordinance, and what will it mean for diversity in our community? The unanimous vote to withdraw was not to ignore the diversity issues in our community. Included in the motion to withdraw is the specific understanding that the council will work with the existing Citizens Diversity Forum to address diverse issues in our community that impact the city's strategic plan. This avoids the duplication of effort and possible conflicts with a separate committee designed to do the same thing as the citizens' forum. In passing the motion to withdraw, the mayor asked that council members attend the future meetings of this diversity forum.

We are indeed fortunate that a group of citizens are willing to take the initiative to establish such a forum to research diversity issues in our community and to offer advice and solutions to the council and city administration for consideration. I think this whole process has resulted in the best way for our community to address diversity, leaving no group out, and I look forward to participating with this forum.

Jerry Heimlicher is a city councilor representing District 3.

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