Statesboro City Council this week heard proposals for making three panels of citizens – one on diversity and inclusion, one studying youth issues and one for workforce development – official advisory commissions of the city government.
But Mayor Jonathan McCollar, who proposed the panels as mayoral commissions while campaigning for the office in 2017, sought to have the council approve the three authorizing ordinances on the first reading Tuesday. This led to a public clash, not the first, between District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum and McCollar. Boyum insisted that the ordinances be completed and go to a second reading for a vote at a future meeting.
In the end, that is what will happen. The council heard from chairs of the commissions and several speakers in favor of each, but McCollar agreed to slate the authorizing ordinances for second readings and consideration of motions during the Oct. 16 meeting.
“On my campaign to become mayor of the city of Statesboro, that was something I was very clear about, these are three initiatives that I’m very dedicated to, and they’re also best practices,” McCollar said Tuesday night. “If you see any Fortune 500 company, they incorporate all three of these measures.”
McCollar had first mentioned the commissions to City Council in January. Panel members, who are volunteers, began meeting in March and April.
The panels are an eight-member Commission on Diversity and Inclusion, whose organizers have dubbed it One Boro, a nine-member Youth Commission and a 10-member Works! Commission focusing on workforce development.
Under the proposed ordinances, the members would need to be Bulloch County residents but not necessarily residents of Statesboro.
These panels would have no authority to borrow money or obtain grants independent of the city. Instead each panel “shall have the authority to prepare studies and reports for the purpose of informing the governing body on policy matters related to” its topic, the draft ordinances state. City Council and the mayor constitute the governing body.
Existing local organizations already work on each of these issues, McCollar acknowledged, but said the commissions would give the city “skin in the game.”
“And when it comes to diversity and inclusion, this City Council passed unanimously a resolution that we are going to be an inclusive city,” McCollar said. “Well, it’s time to put skin in the game. It’s time for us to make sure the rubber meets the road.”
Predating McCollar’s election as mayor, the March 2017 resolution proclaimed Statesboro “a safe and inclusive, welcoming city for all people.”
April Schueths, Ph.D., chair of the Commission on Diversity and Inclusion, also called on the council to build on that resolution by officially adopting the panel.
“We think that putting together this commission is a moral issue, but it’s also a practical issue,” Schueths said. “We know that having dedication to diversity stimulates economic growth and innovation, and really communities that don’t take advantage of their diversity, they are leaving money on the table.”
Several other speakers followed Schueths, all asking the council to approve. Most spoke in general terms, but some also noted personal reasons for wanting the city to address diversity and inclusion, such as an out gay man who was previously closeted while serving as a pastor in a conservative denomination and a woman who has a biracial child.
‘Grand salad bowl’
Georgia Southern’s interim Associate Provost Maxine Bryant, Ph.D., observed that the former ideal of the United States as “a melting pot” has given way to something “more like a stew or better yet, a salad bowl,” where people maintain “our taste, our texture … and we join together and our citizenship is the salad dressing.”
“Statesboro is a grand salad bowl where people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, gender orientations, all of that can join together,” Bryant said. “It takes a commission like this where people who are different … decide to work in one accord to make a difference.”
As Schueths had explained, one of the panel’s ideas is to hold a Statesboro’s Longest Table event, possibly next spring. Longest Table gatherings, where people sit down for a meal and conversations about their community, have been held in other states, but Statesboro’s could be Georgia’s first, Schueths said.
“Council, I know that this is a public hearing and a first reading, but I would like to ask you to vote on this tonight,” McCollar said. “I think that we’ve had ample time and I think that you’ve had the opportunity to review documents that have been shared with you. The bulk of this council has had the opportunity to meet with each one of the committee members and we’ve all shared information and been extremely open.”
“Mayor, I’ll be honest with you,” Boyum said. “I appreciate the spirit of what this commission is designed to do. However, you have an ordinance here in front of us that is incomplete. It has no …”
McCollar interjected that Boyum needed to direct this to the city attorney, Cain Smith.
“I don’t need to address Cain,” Boyum said. “There is a TBD in here. It is incomplete. I’m not about to vote for something that’s incomplete.”
What was missing from the ordinance, in a portion marked TBD for “to be determined” was a statement of the scope of what the diversity commission would advise the council on. During the discussion, Schueths handed Smith a sheet of paper with the scope paragraph to add.
“I understand you guys are very interested and very dedicated to this, and I appreciate y’all’s work,” Boyum said. “I do. But there also is, and this is something that unfortunately is going to come up and it has got to this point despite my efforts to not get it to this point, and that is there is a process for creating these commissions.”
At one point Boyum also said, “We have not had any input.”
“No, councilman, you have not had,” McCollar retorted. “Everybody up here has met with these committees except for you. You’ve been invited.”
McCollar asked everyone who was present to support the commissions to stand up. They were nearly half the audience at that point.
“If you want to see this passed tonight, if you want to see our city move forward and put all of the politics aside, please remain standing,” he said. “Thank you. Thank you. This can be done with a simple up or down vote.”
Then District 4 Councilman John Riggs spoke.
“Mayor, on a happier note, I want to tell you how much forward I look to an extremely long table, all the way through downtown, held together by salad dressing,” Riggs said. “However, I would like to have a second reading, and that is nothing against anybody or for anybody. It’s just that’s the way we do things.”
Some further comments between McCollar and Boyum ensued, with each interrupting the other.
“Gentlemen, in fairness to the people who sit before us that want respect, I would ask that both of you – I understand your passion and appreciate it – but try to listen to each other,” said District 3 Councilman Jeff Yawn. “That’s what they’re asking for, and I think we have to be leadership.”
McCollar said Boyum had “chosen not to be a part of this process” and accused him of “fighting everything this mayor has done, for nine months” for political reasons.
But eventually McCollar said, “Since we don’t have a motion to go ahead and vote on this tonight, my assumption is that we’ll move to the second reading.”
He asked City Clerk Sue Starling to place the second readings of the commission ordinances on the agenda for the second meeting in October, which will be another 5:30 p.m. meeting.
But the council continued with first-reading hearings on the other two commissions, hearing from the chairs and several speakers on each. These hearings took up about 90 minutes in the latter half of a council meeting that started at 5:30 p.m. and lasted until after 9 p.m.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.