When Mayor Lynn Deutsch spoke at a June 11 faith-based police brutality event, she expressed plans to start a citywide conversation about race and diversify city leadership to better reflect Dunwoody’s population.
Six weeks later, the city has no plans for formal conversations, and the City Council recently approved an all-White commission to review the city’s governing documents. Deutsch said the pandemic stalled the racial dialogue plans and that commission diversity is a long-term challenge.
“I had hoped that the situation with this public health crisis would be improving, and it’s obviously not, so some of the plans to do things publicly are having to be retooled,” Deutsch said.
Deutsch said she has continued to have conversations with groups of residents and those that reach out to her wanting to talk about racial equality and justice. Neighboring Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul similarly called for a citywide dialogue at the beginning of June and launched a virtual community meeting process to get input from different groups a month later.
Lydia Singleton-Wells, who organized the faith-based, “Restore: Pausing Our Protest to Pray” event, complimented Deutsch’s efforts to listen to residents and have an open mind about diversity improvements.
Singleton-Wells said she’s working on a website of resources for minority communities in lieu of action from the mayor, though she said she thinks the mayor has good intentions about continuing the conversation about race.
“When it comes to the changes we want to make for racial inequality, I think that the mayor has done a fantastic job,” said Singleton-Wells, who said she’s been in regular conversation with Deutsch about ideas.
Deutsch attended two protests that Singleton-Wells organized, speaking to attendees about her anger about the systemic racism in healthcare and goals to make Dunwoody more inclusive.
During her speech at the June 11 event, Deutsch said she has been “very cognizant for years” that city boards and commissions do not reflect the diversity of Dunwoody.
Since that speech, the council has only had to approve members of the Charter Commission during its July 13 City Council meeting to review the city’s history and governing documents.
After the review, the five-person commission recommends possible improvements to the Georgia General Assembly, which must be done by Nov. 9.
All five appointees of the Charter Commission are White.
“That’s a difficult assignment because the members need to be somewhat aware of how the city operates to begin with and preferably have some involvement in the city,” Deutsch said.
Spokesperson Jennifer Boettcher said there is no application process for the chart commission positions. Deutsch chose one commission appointee, and the council also chose one. The other three appointees were chosen by state Senate and House legislators that represent the area.
“I think that in 2020 you have to be intentional about diversity and inclusion, and you also have to have people who are willing to volunteer their time and knowledge,” said Singleton-Wells about the charter commission appointments.
To be considered for other municipal boards, commissions or committees, residents have to submit an application for appointment to the city clerk, according to the city website.
The first step in diversifying boards and commissions is diversifying the application pool, Deutsch said. She said she and council members have been encouraging people to fill out an application by posting about it on social media and talking to residents.
Singleton-Wells, who has talked with the mayor about becoming a community liaison, said she has never applied for one of city boards or commissions because she didn’t know about the application.
“Unfortunately since the beginning of time, you have this ‘good ol’ boy’ system where all the same people know what’s going on and what to apply to and everyone else is completely unaware,” Singleton-Wells said.
Boettcher said residents can fill out an application at any time to be considered for a position. The city does not advertise open positions, but the website lists the members for all the resident committees and boards and when their term expires.
Eighteen positions spanning the Alcohol License Review Board, the Construction Board of Adjustments and Appeals, the Urban Redevelopment Agency, the Volunteer Coordinating Committee and the Zoning Board of Appeals opened June 30 of this year, according to the term limits of the current members. Nine more positions in different groups will open by the end of the year.
Boettcher said appointments to these open seats will be made later in the summer, and board members “continue to serve until such time as they are reappointed or are replaced by someone new.”
Deutsch said she is working to “get back to the basics” as the city settles into dealing with the COVID-19 crisis for “the long haul.”