Mebane’s city council voted 4-1 Monday night to postpone a proposal to spend $1,000 to join an organization called the Government Alliance on Race & Equity (GARE), which had been recommended by the city’s Racial and Equity Advisory Committee.
Voting in favor of the motion to postpone, or table, the recommendation to join the organization were: Tim Bradley; Katie Burkholder; Sean Ewing; and Jonathan White. Mebane city councilwoman Montrena Hadley cast the lone vote against the motion to table.
“I just saw it as an opportunity to move forward from our racial equity [workshop] we had,” Hadley told The Alamance News Monday night in explaining why she voted against the motion.
Mebane’s city council heard a presentation this week from Allison De Marco, who said she had interned with Seattle’s Office of Civil Rights prior to moving to North Carolina in 2015.
She is now a researcher at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (within the school of Social Work) at Carolina, focusing on “racial equity, poverty, neighborhood effects, work and family, and well-being for residents of rural communities,” based on a brief description of her professional background that she cited for the council Monday night, noting that she also teaches an Economic Justice course at UNC.
De Marco told the council that it’s imperative for local government officials to look for ways to remedy what she described as historical disparities and structural racism. GARE’s approach, she said, “is really moving beyond just closing the gaps [to] really focus on those who are faring the worst.”
“GARE focuses on staff-level work and changes,” De Marco told the council, saying the organization would provide Mebane city officials with “specific trainings,” tailored to any policies and programs that the city believes it should address.
GARE is part of an organization called “Race Forward,” as well as the “Othering and Belonging Institute” at the University of California at Berkeley, according to GARE’s website.
GARE’s mission of working with local governments to “advance equity” is predicated on the premise that “racial inequities exist across all indicators for success in education, criminal legal system, employment, housing, public infrastructure and health, regardless of intent, region of the country or size of jurisdiction,” according to the presentation that De Marco outlined for Mebane’s city council.
Moreover, GARE maintains that “government played a central role in [the] creation and maintenance of racial inequity, did so explicitly for centuries and has done so for 50 [plus] years implicitly via policies and practices that perpetuate inequities, even when they are color-blind or race-neutral,” according to De Marco’s presentation. Those inequities will continue unabated without “intentional and strategic interventions that lead to transformation.”
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De Marco said that more than 467 jurisdictions – to include approximately 14 N.C. municipalities, with the closest in size and proximity to Mebane being Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Hillsborough – have joined GARE to exchange information, collaborate, and “develop solutions to racial equity challenges,” based on her presentation to the city council.
Councilman Jonathan White asked De Marco, “First, if you’d summarize, what do you think the base impact this would have on Mebane?”
De Marco explained that the “trainings are really, really valuable,” and that membership in GARE would provide a “framework” to understand what structural and individual racism are, as well as opportunities for “relationship-building across jurisdictions.”
De Marco conceded, at White’s suggestion, that much of that type of information is freely available but said that some opportunities, such as webinars and trainings, are open only to members of GARE.
“If we join, what is our relationship?” White asked De Marco. “Do they set expectations we have to meet?”
De Marco elaborated, “I think about accountability to our communities. You sign an agreement that you will attend meetings; you then create a core team, reporting back to your staff and community about the progress – particularly back to the community.”
White countered, “I have no problem being accountable to the residents of Mebane. I’m more cautious about being accountable that we pay dues [to]…If we don’t do certain things, we could become members that are not in compliance. Is there anything like that that could come into play? We’re all aware, in the news, [about] a lot of controversy about things like [Critical Race Theory]; are we wading into those waters or not?”
“I hope so,” De Marco said. “I really appreciate that they talk about our work to advance racial equity. I think the challenge is not understand what we mean by certain things.”
Mayor Ed Hooks pointed out that the city had established the Racial Equity Advisory Committee (REAC) and he feels “they are progressing.”
“Is this necessary, or is it just a resource, just a library?” Hooks asked De Marco. “Is that what we’re talking about?”
It’s a resource, De Marco told the mayor. “You could reach out to Carrboro and say, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ I think it’s a benefit to build on and have resources. They can say, ‘here are some tools you can have access to.’”
Several other council members also appeared unimpressed by De Marco’s reasoning for why the city should join GARE.
“So we have access [to], it sounds like, trainings and tools,” summarized mayor pro tem Tim Bradley. “It says jurisdictional-specific trainings. Is that still free to Mebane?”
De Marco said she didn’t know but would find out and get back to the council.
Noting that GARE claims to use data-driven metrics to map its progress in advancing racial equity, councilman Sean Ewing asked De Marco to provide some examples of jurisdictions in which the organization has seen improvement.
“All jurisdictions get to choose what they work on,” De Marco replied. “One chose to work on contracting equity, to try to increase the ability of businesses of color to provide services.”
Carrboro, she said, chose to focus on increasing “inclusivity” in the makeup of the town’s advisory boards. “That is one thing that has had a lot of impact in their community,” De Marco told the council.
“Can you give some examples?” Ewing pressed.
“I can only give you examples in jurisdictions I’ve worked with, and that is Orange County,” De Marco explained, adding that she’d need to research that matter further. She also highlighted the potential benefit that she sees for Mebane’s city council and other city officials in having access to people with “years and years of deep expertise” in a wide range of issues surrounding racial equity.
“I remember the retreat we had,” Hadley asked De Marco, referring to a five-hour joint workshop that the council held with REAC on February 10 of this year. “This would be expounded on that, where we left off?”
“Yeah,” said De Marco.
The council also took no action in February during the joint workshop, which was
facilitated by DeMarco and Beverly Scurry, who is a community program manager for the UNC Health Equity and Inclusion Department, according to minutes from the meeting.
“Would there be one particular department that GARE would work with, such as [human resources]?” Hadley asked.
“It really depends on how the jurisdiction picks it up,” De Marco said.
For his part, Ewing took issue with a process that he described as “very nebulous,” asking De Marco for examples of how other governments had implemented what they learned from GARE.
As an example, De Marco said that Carrboro “wanted to work on recreation and an equitable communication plan,” so that town came up with something called “Carrboro in Motion,” which is a festival aimed at getting all different types of people involved in the community.
“There was lots of thinking around Spanish language interpretation,” she said. “They’ve seen a really good impact in terms of who is being interested and showing up for advisory board meetings.”
“That sounds good,” said Ewing, “but the decision’s tonight, and I hear a lot of ‘I don’t know.’”
Bradley agreed that he’d like to have “some fine-tune answers” about the potential benefits of Mebane joining the GARE organization. “None of these topics are unnecessary,” he said.
“Still, if we can get these things through our REAC committee, or our HR department, then $1,000 seems like it’s just [excessive].”
Bradley made the motion to table the discussion, which Ewing seconded and passed on 4-1 with Hadley opposed.
The council asked city manager Chris Rollins to review the recording of Monday night’s meeting to compile all of the questions that were raised prior to voting on REAC’s recommendation to join the organization.
See comments from public speakers expressing concerns about possible membership in GARE: https://alamancenews.com/residents-speak-out-against-joining-divisive-group/
And read the newspaper’s editorial page views on the issue: https://alamancenews.com/how-woke-does-mebane-need-to-be/