MANSFIELD -- Mansfield City Council on Tuesday evening delayed a vote on a resolution supporting the recognition of racism as a public health crisis.
The decision to give the resolution only an initial read and delay a possible vote came during a session that included legislators reading emailed letters regarding the issue from their constituents, expressing almost universal support for the measure.
Council, which has met in "virtual" online session since the COVID-19 pandemic began, next meets July 21.
6th Ward Councilwoman Jean Taddie, who sponsored the resolution regarding racism, agreed to delay a final vote on the resolution after other council members expressed questions about what the resolution seeks to accomplish.
At-large Councilman David Falquette said he had heard from residents trying to understand the linkage between racism and public health and were struggling with the "open-ended wording" of the resolution.
3rd Ward Councilman Jon Van Harlingen expressed similar reservations, saying there "seems to be a good bit of confusion" on what the task force the resolution would try to create would attempt to do.
"Let's take our time and do this right," Van Harlingen said.
Councilman Jason Lawrence, who represents the city's 5th Ward, said racism "has been festering in this country for 400 years. We're a little remiss to think a resolution is going to turn things around, but it's a start."
Lawrence suggested the resolution should have been assigned to a committee for discussion before coming to council as a whole.
As chair of the public affairs committee, Taddie said she would take it on and would try to schedule an additional meeting on the topic before the next council session.
Taddie criticized advance media coverage of the resolution, saying it failed to provide context and didn't point out individuals and groups in the community who had been working on such a resolution for weeks.
Taddie credited We ACT co-founder Brigitte Coles, OSU-Mansfield Professor Donna Hight, North End Community Improvement Collaborative Executive Director Deanna West-Torrence and Professor Beth Castle, Dr. Elizabeth Castle, a professor and documentary filmmaker, for their work on the effort.
Petitions in support of declaring racism a public health emergency were circulated in Mansfield on May 30 during a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest.
The resolution calls on Richland Public Health to make a similar declaration and that RPH "partner with the community to create a task force or organizing committee" to address the issue.
But a letter from the health board, written by Remy in his role as chairman and read aloud by Falquette during the meeting, said the board discussed the resolution at its meeting on Monday and had decided not to become involved.
In his letter, Remy said the RPH board is a stand-alone entity to "assure autonomy" from other governmental entities.
He wrote that the agency is designed to be a non-political entity and, while it recognizes racism is an issue in the community, will continue to focus its efforts on providing public health services to all county residents.
The task force sought by the resolution would:
-- "provide equity and justice-oriented organizations, by identifying specific activities, policies and procedures to embrace diversity and to incorporate anti-racism principles across the community, its agencies, leadership, staffing and contracting."
-- "develop a plan to understand, address and dismantle racism, to undo how racism affects individual and population health and provide tools to engage actively and authentically with communities of color."
-- "advocate for relevant policies that improve health in communities of color, and support local, state, regional and federal initiatives that advance efforts to dismantle systemic racism."
-- "work to build alliances and partnerships with other organizations that are confronting racism and encourage other local, state, regional and national entities to recognize racism as a public health crisis."
-- "use a racial equity lens to review public health activities and ensure data collection is comprehensive, educational initiatives are culturally competent, and policies are implemented to address the social determinants of health, rather than to reproduce them."
Before discussion of the resolution began in earnest, 4th Ward Councilman Alomar Davenport said recent comments attributed to him had incorrectly stated his views on law enforcement.
"I have not now, nor in the past, nor in the future, would ever be supportive of eliminating the police force. The mere mention of eliminating the police force is asinine," said Davenport.
Davenport said he believes in shrinking the scope of the police department's responsibilities and shifting those to others better equipped to handle areas such as mental health, homelessness and civil issues.
"We have professionals trained on handling those types of issues. It would make our police forces more efficient by removing those items off their plate and allow them to focus on fighting crime," he said.
Davenport and representatives of local organizations like We ACT, VOCAL (Voices of Change, Activism and Leadership), NECIC and Black ministers are scheduled to meet Thursday with members of the city administration to discuss police/community relations.
The goal, according to Davenport, is a formalized code of conduct that will help guide interactions between police and community members.