The city of Sandy Springs will form a “diversity and inclusion commission” following suggestions from recent citywide racial dialogue meetings held in response to nationwide protests over racism and police brutality.

Mayor Rusty Paul promised to present a proposal to form the commission by January. He spoke in response to several suggestions revealed at a Nov. 3 City Council work sessions about comments from participants in the city’s “Civic Dinners on Inclusion and Belonging.”

The new Sandy Springs city logo.

The commission would help the city form policies based on what is learned in Civic Dinners and other inclusion and engagement efforts. Getting in contact with potential commission members will be difficult with the upcoming holidays, Paul said, in explaining the time its formation will take.

The city of Brookhaven recently formed a “Social Justice, Race and Equity Commission” as a similar response to protests.

Paul said the Sandy Springs Civic Dinner process was not a “one-off,” with city staff already working on a follow-up series, which was another suggestion by participants in the first round of virtual discussions. He said he wants the discussions to be frank and realistic, bringing all players to the table.

“We are a diverse community. We don’t have to build diversity so much as we have to build inclusion,” Paul said.

Later in the evening Paul promised he would propose appointing Ed Ukaonu, a Black entrepreneur in the city, to its Development Authority at the next City Council meeting on Nov. 17. Paul said that would give the board 40% minority representation. Ukaonu is the CEO of IBN-GA, LLC, a digital marketing and advertising platform

Paul said this sends a great signal to the community that the city takes not just diversity but also inclusion seriously.

Actions participants want city leaders to take include:

  •   More programs to “highlight the communities’ rich tapestry and maintain the socioeconomic diversity we have”
  •   Diversity in the city’s leadership
  •   Diversity committee
  •   Continue citizen academies and other police/resident programs
  •   More diverse program in the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center; more local acts and more low-cost acts
  •   More Civic Dinners
  •   Put money into affordable housing

Kraun said in terms of civic engagement, the city can explore: weekend citizens on patrol and police academy programs that target underserved markets; build a network of mentors to help women, minority and young business owners; continue livestreaming City Council meetings; and move ahead on its planned City 101 Community Program to launch in spring 2021.

Councilmember John Paulson asked Sharon Kraun, whose Communications department led the Civic Dinners effort, how the city did on its first effort.

Kraun said staff thought 20 of the “dinners,” which were virtual discussions with up to eight people participating, would be a success. Participants who volunteered to join or host the events brought the total number to 44, with 341 attendees. Three of the discussions were in Spanish.

In response to participants saying the city needs more diversity in events and programming, Kraun said the city had planned more culturally diverse events this year, but COVID-19 put an end to all events this year. An inaugural Martin Luther King Jr. Day Art and Film Festival at City Springs held Jan. 20 was an example of the type of programming the city wants to present for the different cultures represented in the city. The second art and film festival is scheduled for Jan. 18.

Some Civic Dinners participants said city elected officials and leadership at City Hall need to participate in the discussions. 

Councilmember Andy Bauman said that “it’s important for the public to know we were all chomping at the bit to attend.”

Kraun said city leaders were purposely kept from joining the discussions.

“That was intentional. We thought it would change the tone of the conversation, and that some people would not be as open,” she said.

As recently revealed by the Reporter, the city did not collect demographic information, such as race and ethnicity, of people who attended the first round of Civic Dinners.

Bauman asked that the city collect demographic information during the next Civic Dinners.

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Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Rough Draft Atlanta and Reporter Newspapers.