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Council OKs 2 citizen commissions
Diversity panel tabled; youth and workforce all ayes
Schueths 2.JPG
April Schueths, a leader of the One Boro commission, speaks to Statesboro City Council. - photo by AL HACKLE/Staff

Statesboro City Council this week unanimously adopted, as official city commissions, the citizen panels on youth and workforce development formed by Mayor Jonathan McCollar and volunteers.

But council members unanimously tabled adoption of the diversity and inclusion commission until the mayor and council’s second meeting of next month, Nov. 20 at 5:30 p.m.

Having heard from many members and supporters of the commissions during another meeting a month ago, the council heard from three diversity and inclusion commission supporters to start Tuesday evening’s discussion.

“We want really to highlight what our great city is already doing well,” said April Schueths, Ph.D., one of the commission’s two co-chairs.

Schueths briefly reviewed how the commission, branded One Boro by its volunteer members, hopes to hold a Statesboro’s Longest Table event. Longest Table gatherings, where people sit down for a meal and conversations about their community, have been held in other states.

One Boro also wants to host a multimedia contest for productions such as videos showing diversity efforts by businesses, nonprofit groups and individuals. Winning entries then would be shared during the Longest Table, she said.

Improving communication, challenging biases and stereotypes are goals of the commission, Schueths said. One Boro’s recommendations already include increasing “diverse representation in decision-making roles and the public workforce” and creating both a “diversity terminology guide” and a “diversity resource guide” to share with “local government, organizations and stakeholders,” according to a printed description the council was given last month.

The other One Boro co-chair is Saba Jallow, Ph.D., director of the Center for Africana Studies at Georgia Southern University. Schueths is a GS associate professor of sociology and a licensed mental health therapist. 

Jones’ motion

Councilman Sam Jones made the motion to table any vote on adopting the diversity commission. He said he wanted to see it include more representation from his district, which is a black-majority area.

“District 2 in the past has not been listened to,” Jones said. “We'd like to be heard as well as seen. ... I think we should table this and invite more people, especially people from District 2."

He said was all for the commission’s goals and had been eager to help put it together but had second thoughts when told it was already together.

"I thought uh-oh! Again, another party and District 2 was not invited. ...,” Jones said. “Let's invite everyone, especially the African-Americans who are locals who are not here today."

A woman in the audience identified herself as part of the commission and said she lives in District 2. She was not one of the members named in the original list, but McCollar said during the meeting that “at large” members who volunteer will be added with no restriction on the number, the official member count being of the voting members.

District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum seconded the motion to table. He and McCollar had sparred verbally at the Sept. 18 meeting, where the mayor urged the council to approve the commission ordinances on a first reading while Boyum insisted on carrying them to a traditional second reading.

‘More diversity’

At Tuesday’s meeting Boyum said he and all the other council members support the ideas behind the commissions.

"The diversity committee, as much as it is a laudable goal, eight people that are on the committee, six of them are at Georgia Southern, seven are professors, Boyum said. “I just think we could use a little bit more diversity on the diversity and inclusion committee."

The commission would have eight official members under the proposed ordinance. A list describing nine members this summer identified seven of them as Georgia Southern staff and faculty members and an eighth as a Savannah College of Art and Design employee who previously worked at Georgia Southern.

McCollar noted that he and District 3 Councilman Jeff Yawn are Georgia Southern staff members and that two other council members are GS students or alumni. The citizen commissions are “think tanks” and in a university town naturally draw expertise from the university, he said.

Much of Tuesday’s argument concerned how much previous opportunity council members had to name members to the commissions. Otherwise, the commissions were formed by volunteers, after some of the planning took place between McCollar’s election last November and his swearing-in in January.

McCollar noted that he had talked to council members about the panels Jan. 16. The minutes from that meeting note that he “stated that Council members would have the opportunity to appoint one member each to the commissions that he is creating for the City.”

But this had been one mention during mayoral comments, and council members first received lists of the citizen panel members Aug. 26, Boyum said. The panels had begun meeting in May. Boyum also referred to having “concerns about the structure” of the panels.

“Let me give a point of clarity on this,” McCollar said during Tuesday’s meeting. “The amount of communication that we've had with these commissions is unprecedented. Typically with commissions, the council members are able to choose the members, they choose the members and then that's pretty much it. The unique thing about these commissions is they actually have at-large positions, so anybody at any given time can become a part of it."

Discussion went on for more than an hour before the motion to table passed 5-0.

The two approved

Concerns related to all three panels were mentioned as part of that discussion. But hearing again about each of the other two commissions, City Council approved the youth commission 5-0, on a motion from District 5 Councilman Derek Duke seconded by Yawn, and the workforce development commission 5-0, on a motion from Yawn seconded by District 4 Councilman John Riggs.

Lainie Jenkins and Renata Newbill-Jallow are co-chairs of the youth commission, which has nine official members under its authorizing ordinance. The workforce development panel, officially the Statesboro Works! Commission, has 10 official members and is co-chaired by Curtis Woody and Cleve White.

The ordinances do not give the unpaid commissions any authority to spend city funds or obtain grants or loans independent of City Council approval. Members are required to be Bulloch County residents. 

“We’ll be back on the 20th, and we’re not giving up. It’s frustrating,” Schueths said, leaving the council meeting after the votes on the commissions.

The next day on the phone, McCollar accentuated the positive from his perspective.

“I’m thankful for the council definitely passing the two, but as their reasoning behind tabling one and not the other two, I’m not exactly sure,” he said. “But I am grateful that they passed the other two. I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

McCollar said he understood Jones’ point about including residents from his district.

“I don’t think that’s an unreasonable request, and I know for a fact we can accommodate that, so I’m going to reach out to him and see exactly who his recommendations are, and whatever tweaking he wants to see done, I want to get done so we can get it passed,” McCollar said.

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.

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