Mt. Lebanon commissioners have given the green light to a yearlong effort toward ensuring the municipality is a welcoming place.
During the commission’s discussion session Tuesday, unanimous consensus was reached on forming a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Ad Hoc Committee within the Mt. Lebanon Community Relations Board.
Commissioners Leeann Foster and Mindy Ranney have been working on drafting guidelines for the committee since the national unrest caused in May when George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer began.
Foster and Ranney’s efforts represent an extension of a commission goal toward inclusiveness.
The municipality now seeks residents who are interested in serving on the committee, which has four working groups:
- Community Awareness and Community Building, examining ways for Mt. Lebanon to become more welcoming and diverse;
- Diversity in Boards and Hiring, addressing the pool of qualified applicants for municipal volunteer and staff positions;
- Police Engagement, working in conjunction with the police department staff to recommend ways to expand the applicant pool for police positions, along with organizing and conducting community conversations, focus groups and listening sessions;
- Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Recognition, Event Planning and Incident Response, suggesting an applicable calendar for municipal observances, actions and events, plus developing considerations for a municipal response to adverse situations.
“I, for one, feel very overwhelmed by the project, and I think it’s outside of the scope of what a lot of us do,” Foster said.
“But it is not outside of the scope of what a lot of our residents do, and there are a lot of people who are anxious to step up and help us with this work.”
The committee initially is set up for members to serve on it for one year.
“At the end of that year, we’re looking for updates, suggestions and recommendations that the commission and municipality can implement moving forward,” Ranney said.
With regard to the police working group, she said Chief Aaron Lauth is seeking “direct input from residents, especially residents with diverse backgrounds.”
“It’s very much in collaboration with the Mt. Lebanon Police Department,” she said. “It’s absolutely their desire to hear from residents directly.”
Foster said Lauth also has been looking into ways of ensuring diversity among those who apply for department positions.
The ad hoc committee has a similar objective for the municipality at large, and numerous procedures already are in place, especially with regard to hiring employees. An area of focus will be the composition of the municipal volunteer advisory boards.
“Are there ways that we can make the process of filling board positions more deliberate around diversity, equity and inclusion?” Foster said.
She elaborated on one of the goals of the working group that addresses planning.
“When an event comes up like Juneteenth of Pride Month, we’re kind of scrambling around. What are we going to say about that? What are we going to do about that, as a commission, as a community?” she said. “What we’d like people to do is work together to develop a calendar for us to be able to recognize different constituents within our community and have a protocol in place if we do have a diversity, equity or inclusion event that occurs.”
Another consideration involves responses to situations by municipal officials, with Foster reporting residents made many inquiries following Floyd’s death.
“We were trying to make decisions about what it is that we should do, because people definitely wanted to make a statement,” she said. “But there are a lot of us who don’t know what kind of language we should be thinking about, those types of things, and we need to have more of a protocol.”
Following the commission’s decisions to move ahead with the ad hoc committee, municipal officials are developing an application process for residents.
“I think this is a really sensitive and important group,” Foster said, “and I think it’s important that we sit down with people who are interested in this and have a real conversation about what it is that we’re trying to accomplish, what could they bring to the table.”
The other three Mt. Lebanon commissioners – Craig Grella, president, along with Steve Silverman and Andrew Flynn – gave ringing endorsements for the committee.
“As I look at what you’ve put together, I feel like you’ve struck an ideal balance on this process, in terms of both being thoughtful about what is the role that the government plays in the community, but also how do we bring people in the community together to move forward,” Flynn told Ranney and Foster. “I look forward to participating as much as I can.”