Easthampton committee to examine city laws with eye to racial bias

  • Easthampton Municipal Building JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 11/22/2020 7:54:53 PM
Modified: 11/22/2020 7:54:36 PM

EASTHAMPTON — The City Council has voted to form an Ordinance Review Committee that will take a comprehensive look at the city’s laws with a eye toward eliminating any systemic racial bias.

The review was proposed by City Councilor Thomas Peake, who said Thursday that he was inspired to do so by the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis earlier this year, as well as subsequent calls from activists to take a look at racial issues in Easthampton.

Peake said he grappled with those calls to action and the fact that the separation of powers means the City Council doesn’t supervise city departments. However, Peake said, what the council does have the authority to do is to go through the rules and “make sure those rules are fair.”

The City Charter suggests that the city form a committee at least once every five years to review ordinances. However, Peake said he’s unsure whether such a review has ever been done before.

“If we’ve ever done this, it was a long time ago,” Peake said.

The council voted unanimously Wednesday night to form the Ordinance Review Committee and applications are now being taken for membership on it. The committee will consist of seven members, no more than three of whom may be councilors.

City Council President Peg Conniff will select the committee members, and those interested in applying should email her at mconniff@easthamptonma.gov.

“I want to see people talk to me about why this is important to them,” Conniff said of potential applicants.

She also said she hopes she gets some applicants who deal with racial issues themselves.

“I absolutely want to hear from the community about why this is important for Easthampton to do,” she said.

Peake said people who have lived experience of racism or professional knowledge of it should apply for the committee.

“Those sorts of perspectives are going to be seen as valuable in an applicant,” he said.

Peake noted that the committee will be looking for things that are inappropriate or no longer able to be enforced in the city’s laws, in addition to checking for systemic racial bias.

“Nothing’s off the table,” Peake said.

Once formed, the committee will have a year to review the city’s ordinances. If it has time, it will also look at the city’s traffic rules and orders. Zoning ordinances will not be in its purview, however.

Police Chief Robert Alberti expressed enthusiasm for the formation of the committee.

“I think it’s a brilliant idea,” Alberti said. “Certainly, we in the police department are looking forward to working with the group and helping out any way we can.”

Javier Luengo-Garrido, a community organizer and immigrant rights advocate with ACLU Massachusetts, also reacted positively to the news of the council’s vote, noting that Northampton is also reviewing its laws for racial bias.

“The fact that cities are starting to review ordinances … it’s a really good first step,” said Luengo-Garrido, who noted the value of such reviews for both looking at systemic racism and outdated language.

Having people of color serve on the committee is “going to be really important,” he said.

Luengo-Garrido also expressed hope that diverse people will be appointed to the Easthampton committee, and Conniff wants to see people of color on the committee as well.

“Who better to evaluate impacts than the folks who have been impacted?” she said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

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