A candidate for City Council on Thursday urged Missoula County commissioners to not pass a resolution declaring its commitment to establish a “just, equitable, diverse and inclusive” community.
Commissioners last week and the City Council this week both opened public hearings regarding the resolution, which, if adopted, would demonstrate their commitment to begin pursuing goals around equity and inclusion.
But some are have voiced opposition to the measure, calling it unnecessary.
“I firmly believe this is not necessary. It’s covered in our Constitution and our Bill of Rights,” said Alan Ault, a candidate for Ward 4 on the City Council. “This is just a waste of taxpayer money.”
Ault also opposed taxpayer funding to support the county’s equity coordinator. The City Council this year will also consider a budgetary request to support a similar position in city government.
“Creating a position for someone to police this is unnecessary,” Ault said.
Advocates of the resolution over the past few weeks have called upon the city and county to adopt it, saying local government and many residents could do more to expand efforts directed at equity and inclusion.
Among other things, the so-called “JEDI” effort will seek new strategies to review and revise local policies, procedures and initiatives to better reflect justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.
It will also develop tools to track progress.
“I’m not a victim. I have every right as everyone else in the county,” Rob Taylor, a self-identified gay man, told commissioners on Thursday. “We don’t have an equity problem and discrimination problem. And enough with the letters (LGBTQ+). I can’t even keep up with them. This (resolution) is asking for problems in Missoula County that we don’t even have.”
Others agreed on Thursday in opposing to the resolution.
“I’m perplexed about this resolution,” said Robert Alberts. “It’s a bad solution to a non-existent problem. I hate to see this turn into an uber-liberal city based on falsehoods and lies.”
All three men who testified in opposition were white males.
According to the resolution, Native Americans and other people of color make up almost 8% of Missoula’s population, but they remain disproportionately represented in several income groups, including those earning 80% of the area median income or less.
They are also more likely to suffer from other social issues that play a role in health, such as poverty and a lack of health insurance.
“We think it’s important to have opportunity for every resident across the city to be successful,” Donna Gaukler, director of Parks and Recreation, told members of the City Council earlier in the week. “We know economically and financially, we’re more successful as a community when we’re all successful.”
Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier told opponents on Thursday that the resolution remains a work in progress. The county’s public hearing on the resolution closes next week and the city’s comment period closes the following week.
“It’s a draft with a capital D,” Strohmaier said.