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Missoula City Council adopts equity resolution, calls for financial investment

The City of Missoula is growing more diverse, and a new resolution aims to ensure the city pursues the principles of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion for all. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)

A resolution citing Missoula’s pursuit of a “just, equitable, diverse and inclusive” community passed the City Council on Monday night, but not unanimously.

The resolution, which passed on a 9-2 vote, has gone through three separate drafts over the past two months. The final version will allocate a total of $227,600 from the federal American Rescue Plan to promote the resolution’s “JEDI” principles in the Fiscal Year 2022 budget as proposed.

Among other things, the resolution strives “to ensure equal opportunities for all people, and particularly those diverse populations who are often marginalized, by making changes to city policy and applying public funds and resources through a lens of equity.”

Multiple council members joined Mayor John Engen in voicing support for the resolution, calling attention to the need within Missoula to create an equal platform for all members of society. Missoula County is considering adopting the resolution as well.

Supporters suggested opponents were against the resolution due to “fear.”

“It is simply not acceptable to not work on dismantling the systems that perpetuate this disparity. It is absolutely necessary to know what the issues are in our community in order to address the changes that are needed,” said council member Mirtha Becerra.

She said the city’s financial resources should be directed to the cause.

“Ensuring that Missoulians have access to resources and opportunities regardless of their skin color, culture, or background is important. Therefore, I think that resources should be allocated to this work much like we would do any department that works to improve the quality of life of our residents,” she said.

Edits to the previous draft included more “whereas” statements to acknowledge the population of older adults within Missoula. The changes also called attention to the disproportionate rate of incarcerated Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color within the community.

While all council members agreed with the resolution’s statements that all should be treated fairly and have equal access to services, not all agreed government should have a role in the political push – and taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for it.

Council members Jesse Ramos and Sandra Vasecka received praise from some members of the public for their opposition to the resolution.

“Many folks have reached out in dismay about how their tax dollars are being spent on this, on this virtue signaling,” said Vasecka. “All Montanans, all Americans, all refugees and legal immigrants are absolutely welcome here. We don’t need resolution after resolution to say that.”

Ramos agreed.

“I, like my fellow council members, believe in reducing barriers to success, and in my mind, the government is always the biggest builder of barriers and the biggest obstacle of success for all citizens … I don’t see any actual benchmark in this resolution where we can measure any progress on this expenditure.”

Missoula is a lead for the 2021-2022 National League of Cities’ “Cities of Opportunity” cohort, a national organization comprised of local government leaders intended to drive “A just, equitable, diverse, and inclusive Missoula — free of systemic and structural inequalities.”

Cities of Opportunity members also include Houston, Kansas City, Milwaukee and Freemont, California, among two others in Georgia and New Jersey.

Mayor Engen voiced his support for the resolution, calling it an obligation for the government to use its power to support every member of a community it governs.

“I believe that local government, in particular, is the formal social contract whereby we create rules and regulation but we also create opportunities and chances. We do that by collective investment, we do that by electing people to represent our interest and our values, and if we are not doing it then who the hell is going to.”

Missoula’s justice, equity resolution still alive; draws mixed reactions from public