President Cathy Adduci began the village board’s Committee of the Whole meeting on the culture of equity and inclusion in River Forest’s civic bodies with a quote from Ruth Bader Ginsburg who said, in an interview, that “justices continue to think and can change. So I am ever hopeful that if the court has a blind spot today, its eyes will be open tomorrow.”

Adduci said she hoped that if anyone participating in the Sept. 21 meeting had a blind spot, eyes would be opened after the discussion on equity and inclusion in River Forest.

That, Adduci said, is “the piece that we are trying to do tonight, internally, to look at our government, our administration, our police, and all of our internal workings to ensure that we’re striving for equity and inclusion.”

She hoped these conversations would result in actionable initiatives and actionable change, regardless of feelings of discomfort that might come up in the discussion.

And some discomfort did come up. Village Administrator Eric Palm described the village’s plan to take a look at equity and inclusion within all aspects of civil life, including all departments, such as police, fire, finance, public works and the administrations. Purchasing and procurement, said Palm will be looked at “through the lens of equity.”

That effort, he said, would be led by an advisory board of 10-12 community and staff members “to provide guidance, feedback, and advise the village board and administration” on issues surrounding equity and inclusion. Palm suggested that each trustee name someone for this advisory group.

At this point, Trustee Erika Bachner said a similar group had already been assembled. She and Trustee Katie Brennan had gathered a group of people around the time of the George Floyd murders, a group initially formed to spearhead the Twin Cities covenant with Maywood. 

“We’ve identified a dozen folks in River Forest who are residents who with their diverse backgrounds coming to the issue of this work, make me proud,” Bachner said. “They have said they would commit themselves to the process of looking at internal processes.”

Brennan and Trustee Patty Henek backed up Bachner, stating that a group like Palm was suggesting was already in place.

“They were reaching out to residents to be able to share their lived experiences, which is what I think is going to help inform any internal conversations,” Henek said. “It’s one thing to have policies on paper … but there’s a difference with how it actually plays out in real life. … That’s the group that should start this conversation.”

A few trustees objected.

Trustee Tom Cargie spoke against the process by which the group was formed.

“It wasn’t a democratic process,” Cargie argued. “It was a process between you two [Bachner and Brennan]. Because you took the initiative without board authority, that established the pattern and composition of the committee. … We’re a board. We act in unison, as a body. Individual actions don’t become board actions.”

He later added: “I’m not normally a process guy, but here the process failed. I do think that two trustees shouldn’t choose all the people.”

Bachner responded that the committee’s work and formation has been “pretty informal” and “nothing is set in stone,” and Henek mentioned at least two conversations at the board table where this group was previously brought up. But Cargie said a vote was never taken.

Trustee Robert O’Connell agreed with Cargie. His understanding was the already-formed group was going to focus on the Twin City covenant. Using them for this new initiative, without vetting them the way committee members normally would be, is “rogue.”

“This has been bothering me too,” said O’Connell. “If we want to form a commission, we do it the way it’s supposed to be done.”

Trustee Respicio Vazquez made it quite clear that he appreciates the work being done and doesn’t necessarily object to anyone on the board formed by Bachner and Brennan. Part of his problem, though, is he doesn’t even know who’s in that group, which he also understood to be focused on the covenant agreement.

“I would like to know who these people are,” said Respicio. “I’m not against who the group is. I’m interested in hearing who this group is.” He added that listening to people, including the trustees, to set guidelines on what the needs are, should be a focused initiative. 

Adduci said the solution might be to use the currently assembled group, and add members suggested by each additional trustee. “If the group has to be larger so the other board members feel they have contribution to it, that’s OK too,” Adduci said. She suggested the 10-12 already on the group, with additional suggestions by other trustees, would bring the group to 15-20 people.

“The bigger it is, the more difficult it is to manage,” Cargie said.

Brennan made the point that it’s important to make sure the majority of members of the board are from marginalized groups. 

Adduci said approvals for any recommendations made by the group will always come back to the village board for a vote.

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