Earlier this month, Durango City Council was prepared to end, or at least temporarily suspend, further proceedings of a citizen advisory board that helps guide the city on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Councilors said they were prepared to do so based on a technicality: Advisory boards must have a City Council liaison – a City Council member who serves as a representative to advisory boards – but the Community Relations Commission had no such representative.
Members and supporters of the commission voiced staunch opposition to ending the commission, which was created in 2012 and played a leading role in 2020 and 2021 to help mend relationships with minorities or marginalized members of the community.
Supporters of the commission said discontinuing the commission would be viewed as an attempt to silence minority and marginalized voices.
Jennifer Latham, a commission member, questioned why the Community Relations Commission was the only advisory group under consideration for discontinuance.
“To discontinue meetings of the CRC, even temporarily, would be a grave disservice to the community,” she said. “In my opinion, any vote to do so will be a clear case of power, privilege and oppression at work with the intention to silence voices of this commission and to detract from the stated purpose of the CRC to promote respect and acceptance for diversity within the city.”
Mayor Barbara Noseworthy said all city boards and commissions must have a liaison council member, but she stepped down from that position in June, which left the Community Relations Commission lacking a liaison. No one else stepped up to fill the roll, she said.
Noseworthy said liaisons play an important role because they provide boards and commissions access to members of City Council, historical context about the council’s preferences or past discussions, and insight about other relevant council details.
“CRC specifically requested a liaison about two years ago. They worked with the city attorney to rewrite the resolution so that they would have one,” Noseworthy said.
The resolution to discontinue the commission was never voted on. Instead, Councilor Olivier Bosmans volunteered to become the commission’s next liaison.
Since its creation in 2012, the Community Relations Commission has hosted focus groups, surveys and community input events about a range of subjects, such as minority experiences and inequitable access to city services.
It has examined controversial issues such as logos, signage, and trail and street names that might carry negative connotations; it has advocated for improved access to city services for marginalized groups; and it has generally served as a liaison between marginalized members of the community and the city staff as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion issues.
Enrique Orozco-Perez, a commission member, said the commission has fought successfully for language justice rights in translation or interpreter services for city meetings, and its Latinx subcommittee worked with Durango Transit to reimplement a bus route on U.S. Highway 160 that services an underrepresented community, among other accomplishments.
“These are accomplishments that should be celebrated, and what you’re doing is trying to silence us again,” he said at the Aug. 2 meeting. “There’s 11 (advisory board) commissions. Why is the CRC the only one being silenced or talked about being silenced?”
He said the Community Relations Commission consists of five members: two Native Americans, two Latinx members and “the epitome of what is a white ally.” He said shutting down the commission is “the perpetuation of white supremacy.”
“Because we’re strong voices, because we’re leaders in our community, it scares you,” he said. “It scares you that we’re agitating your comfortable white bubble and it’s time that you recognize that we will not let that happen.”
Noseworthy said she fully recognizes the hard work and advocacy the commission has shown for Latinx, Indigenous, LGBTQ and other marginalized groups within Durango.
“I don’t think there’s anything disparaging in that regard,” she said Friday. “It’s really about what is the right process.”
She said a restructuring of city boards and commissions has been a long time in the making, although city staff is still exploring options to recommend to City Council. That process started back in December 2019, she said.
Hayley Kirkman was one of multiple residents who chimed in during a citizen participation period to support keeping the commission active.
“This commission is a huge asset to the city and it would be so foolish to willingly give up this tremendous help that these folks are providing you with,” she said.
She said members who make up the commission are “overqualified” to be volunteering their time without pay and with an operating budget of just $5,000 annually. She said if the city were to hire professional diversity, equity and inclusion consultants, it would never get such a deal in cost compared with the current commission.
“It’s high time that each of you who sits in these positions of power prioritize this work and listen to the people who are actively disenfranchised in this community,” she said.