Responding to unrest and concern within the city, the City Council of Rohnert Park called a special meeting to discuss racial and electoral issues. Held on June 16 at 1 p.m., the virtual meeting broadcast on Channel 26, addressed three agenda items. They were:
•2A: “Update on Draft Community Engagement Plan
Regarding Reviewing City Policies and Practices to
Achieve Greater Equality”
• 2B: “Update on Draft Election Outreach Plan”
• 2C: “Authorizing the Mayor to Send a Letter of
Opposition to State Constitutional Amendment 6
Regarding Expansion of Gambling.”
The meeting lasted almost 90 minutes. Most of the time was spent on an engagement plan for achieving greater equality. After a staff report and public comments, there was council discussion.
Following on the heels of the “March in the Friendly City” event held Saturday June 13, the city staff quickly put together a plan for council’s consideration. Originally scheduled for the regular meeting on June 23, Mayor Callinan said it was important to move quickly on this issue. Despite having signed the “My Brother’s Keeper’s Pledge” with other Sonoma County cities and law enforcement officials on Wednesday June 10, during the protest event, many voices still thought the Rohnert Park City Council was silent about discrimination and inequality in their city.
The plan presented by the city manager, Darrin Jenkins, called for going beyond that pledge which is focused on police reform. He wants to look not only at use of force policy but all city policies and procedures that may contribute to the institutional discriminatory experience of persons of color in Rohnert Park. As a first step, adopt a resolution to go on record that the city condemns racism. Next, a series of “listening sessions” to gather insight to those unfair and unequal practices experienced by residents regarding city practices. He would seek out persons of color to lead those sessions if possible. He envisions 3-5 sessions either virtually or in person over a 2-3-month period. The next step is to document and publish a report to the community about the issues raised in those meetings. Finally, based on the data gathered, move to reform any city policy or procedure that promotes discrimination or inequality in city practices. His goal is to move quickly and have this accomplished by the end of the year. The estimated cost to execute this plan was $20-40 thousand.
Eighteen public comments followed. Ranging from hope the plan was more than a nice gesture to specific recommendations. They asked the council now to consider establishing a diverse civilian oversight board for the Public Safety Department, bans on certain use of force techniques, pleas for de-escalation and mental health awareness training and a true commitment to engaging all members of the community in addressing these issues. Council members then shared their comments and concerns. Some were defensive. For example, Vice Mayor Jake Mackenzie stressed that the city hasn’t been silent. That the “Review, Engage, Report and Reform” verbiage in the “My Brother’s Keeper Pledge” were actions, not just words. Council member Belforte cautioned that sensitivity training to the issues may be needed before the listening sessions. She said many “lack trust” and without trust they may be hesitant to tell their stories in these listening sessions. In the end all five council members told Jenkins to move forward with his plan but for in-person sessions if possible.
The outreach plan on city elections according to Jenkins would cost between $5-10 thousand dollars. In both English and Spanish, the goal is to provide information about the November 3 election and to encourage residents in District 1-3-5 to run for city council. Jenkins said they would use the city’s website, social media, articles in the Community Voice and some type of brochure or post card mailing to voters in the districts schedule to vote this year. The city clerk’s office is accepting appointments to work with residents who want to run for election effective July 13. They can help them understand process and providing necessary forms for filing. You can make an appointment at firstname.lastname@example.org. The council directed staff to proceed with the plan presented.
At the request of the Graton Casino, the city was asked to submit a letter in opposition to State Senator Bill Dodd’s proposal to put a California Constitutional Amendment regarding gambling on the November 2020 ballot. If passed, it would allow expanded card room and sports betting in the state. The request was approved on a 5-0 vote. Mayor Callinan will sign the letter and send it by this Friday.