One of the protestors' demands was that Ontario city government reflect the gender and ethnic makeup of the community. (The Enterprise/Rachel Parsons)
Many of the Black Lives Matter protesters’ eight demands were already being discussed by the city or will be considered, according to Adam Brown, Ontario city manager.
The demands, which were posted on the protest organizer Charlie Gonzalez’s Facebook page ahead of the June 4 demonstration, were “well intended,” said Brown, but some were “lacking understanding of the process.”
For example, one of the demands asked of the Ontario City Council was to address the lack of gender diversity on the Ontario City Council. All the councilors are men. Councilor Freddy Rodriguez said at the protest that it was the responsibility of the community to vote and run for office.
Brown agreed, saying that diversifying the city council is “up to the voters.” He said city officials can’t change the council makeup.
Demands for the city council, however, largely focused on the city’s strategic plan. The plan encompasses five main areas: Desirability, education, beautification, growth and lifestyle, according to the plan.
One demand asks for the city to include more racial equity in its plan, which is not specifically mentioned in any part of the plan.
Another demand asked for more diversity training “beyond what is listed” under the internal improvements section of the lifestyle category. As of now, the section reads: “Educate department heads on methods of interacting with a diverse community.”
“And so what I picked up from the conversation was that they wanted to extend that beyond staff,” Brown said. “Actually, I think our plan may say department heads, but they wanted to extend it to all of the city employees, which we would certainly be supportive of all of our employees, making sure they have diversity training.”
Two demands focused on the beautification section of the plan, with strategies including improving the city’s cleanliness, creating more activities and bringing more art and culture to the city.
The city should “purposefully seek black and brown artists to be a part of the beautification section of the strategic plan and require artwork to represent the diversity in our community.”
Brown said the city council has discussed creating a concrete pedestal for art displays, similar to those in Hood River. The pedestals in Hood River are open for anyone to display their work for up to two years, Brown said, and while on display, the artwork is for sale. Once the artwork is bought, the money goes to the artist, and it is then replaced by another piece of artwork.
“We're looking for ways to increase public art, and along with that would go representing our cultures,” said Brown.
Part of the strategy to improve the cleanliness of Ontario is to “stop fine forgiveness for code enforcement violations,” which one of the demands asks for the city to retain.
However, Brown said the city doesn’t “really have a program for that,” so he was “a little bit lost on that one.” He said the only thing resembling a fine forgiveness program is the employees at the city’s front desk, who have the ability to set up payment plans with people and work with individuals who are waiting to get paid and need more time.
“Unless I'm having a brain freeze, I don't think there's an actual program,” said Brown. “It's just something we've empowered our front desk people to do.”
The list from protesters also asks that the Ontario Police Department create a citizen police overview committee to work on making more police community outreach programs. Brown said Ontario Police Chief Steven Romero will be “excited” to do so because he has “a great record for using the community groups to police.”
Brown also said the city created a diversity advisory committee two and a half years ago, which has a limit that no more than two people on the committee can represent one group.
“So, you know, we have a Native American Indian on it,” said Brown. “We have a Japanese woman, we have a Hispanic woman, we have a white male… but anyway, it's really diverse, and it hasn't really taken off yet, but maybe this group can add some vitality to it.”
Janet Komoto, who is a member of the committee, said the committee was established to advise city officials on issues relating to diversity and equity. She said it meets on the third Wednesday of every month, but hasn’t in three months due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The committee’s 2020 project was the 2020 Census, an effort also put on hold.
Further, two of the demands called for more transparency in how the police department “handles officer complaints and reprimanding” and “in de-escalation training that officers receive.”
In regards to transparency in how the police department deals with officer complaints and punishments, Brown said he thinks the protesters are “focused on the wrong entity” because of “state laws that protect files, people’s personnel records.”
“I don't think that's something we can change, but I could be wrong,” said Brown. “I have to look into it, but my first glance was, you know, that's protected information.”
However, Brown said providing more transparency in de-escalation training is “something I think — we'll look at that one and talk about, you know, when the last training they've had was and was it adequate enough?”
“Given the times and stuff, I think that's a fair request,” said Brown. “And if they want us to let them know what type of training they've had when, then I think we could surely provide that.”
News tip? Contact reporter Bailey Lewis at [email protected] or at 214-924-2766.
PLEASE SUPPORT OUR CONTINUING SERVICE TO THE COMMUNITY
SUBSCRIBE - $5 a month, automatically.
DONATE - to provide additional support. You can also mail a check: Malheur Enterprise, PO Box 310 Vale OR 97918. Donor identities are confidential unless the donor specifies otherwise. Thank you!