The Sandy Springs Diversity and Inclusion Task Force completed its assignment set by Mayor Rusty Paul and approved the last pieces of its report on the city’s strengths and how to make improvements.

The mayor established the Task Force by appointing its members on Feb. 2, 2021. Its goal was established to suggest ways to improve inclusion in city government and the community following the Black Lives Matter protests that occurred in the city in the summer of 2020.

The Housing section of the report being compiled by Task Force Chair Jim Bostic said that the principal need expressed is for more workforce housing in the city.

Rabbi Joshua Heller, chair of the Communications subcommittee, said his section emphasized that digital communications should be used by the city. The recommendations included allowing the city’s professional staff to choose the best methods out of several possibilities.

The original 10 members of the Diversity & Inclusion Task Force met for the first time virtually in March 2021, with Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul outlining his goals for the group.

The Recreation subcommittee, chaired by Clarissa Sparks, included a commitment from Recreation and Parks Director Michael Perry that no one will be excluded from its programs and facilities.

Being a part of the community makes every person responsible to continue to uplift the diversity of Sandy Springs, Sparks said. That requires making sure the parks and recreation facilities are inviting and supportive of everyone.

The subcommittee’s report communicates that the city’s recreation programs are diverse and they’re inclusive.

“No student, no child, no participant would be left out of any of their programming that they’ve designed and that they’ve made a commitment to make sure that everyone is represented,” Sparks said.

Bostic said Perry talked about one issue Sandy Springs has is a lack of available land. But the school system has land, and the Recreation and Parks director has entered a partnership with them to provide programs from soccer and basketball to help with athletic fields.

Bostic said former Task Force member Sal Ortega, a sergeant with the city’s Police Department, helped arrange a meeting with his boss to talk about the department and policing in the city. Personnel, support from the community and compensation for officers compared to similar cities in metro Atlanta were discussed. They also discussed the housing offered to officers on properties along Hammond Road the city bought for its future road widening project.

The Task Force chair said he came away from the conversation pleased about the work going on with the Police Department.

As the Task Force came to an end with the meeting’s end, Heller expressed gratitude for everyone who started the journey and said that great contributions were made. The work they did focused on ethnic and economic diversity, he said. 

“One point that came out was questions of diversity in terms of ability, which was beyond the scope of our assignment, but that I would hope that the city would take on with folks who are really qualified to do that at the appropriate time,” he said.

Sparks said she looked forward to seeing the implementation of Task Force suggestions.

Sandy Springs City Clerk Raquel Gonzalez, another Task Force member, said they did not have an easy assignment though the mayor’s directive was straightforward. They were asked to figure out how best to engage with the diverse community in the city.

“We had a bunch of difficult conversations that we were tasked to doing in this very public space,” she said. “And unless people sit in this spot, I don’t think they truly understand how difficult a task that can feel like, so I applaud each of you.”

She said the Task Force’s subcommittee reports are published on the city’s website. More information about the Task Force can be found on its web page.

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