A discussion at the Nov. 30 virtual River Forest Village Board meeting on implementing the internal component of the effort to create a culture of equity and inclusion reopened a previous division among officials regarding obtaining resident input.

In September, officials announced their intent to ensure the village committed to a culture of equity and inclusion by approaching the issue from internal and external perspectives. 

The external component was already in motion with the signing of the Twin Villages Covenant with Maywood in June and has since moved forward with the approval in October of a partnership with Dominican University in River Forest.

Village Administrator Eric Palm acknowledged the existence of a group of 12 residents who have expressed an interest in serving on an advisory committee to study the internal component, but he advocated using a consultant with experience in this area to help village officials determine goals and objectives.

“As previously discussed, there is an importance to taking an inward look at our organization as it relates to equity and inclusion,” he said. “This will focus on various areas, including policies, practices, systems and structures in all of the operating departments.”

As they did in a previous discussion in September, trustees Tom Cargie and Bob O’Connell expressed concerns with the group of 12 residents, who were organized by trustees Erika Bachner and Katie Brennan following the police-involved killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and others earlier this year. 

O’Connell said he appreciated the work by Bachner and Brennan and acknowledged the qualifications of the 12 residents, but he objected to the process.

“I still don’t feel that I have a seat at the table, and I feel like I’m owed a seat the table,” he said. “I feel like I’m on the outside looking in.”

Bachner and Brennan defended their efforts, stressing the qualifications of the 12 residents, especially their “lived experiences,” noting that their fellow trustees had been encouraged to suggest additional people to the committee.

O’Connell said he has been spoken to residents who he thinks “would add value to such an advisory committee” but who ask him questions about what work they will be asked to do and how much time it will take. 

“And I can’t answer those questions, because we don’t really know what path we’re going to go down,” he said. “We’re putting the cart before the horse a little bit. 

“I would like to engage a consultant sooner than later so that we can really understand what we need. We don’t know what the work is.”

Cargie agreed, stating a desire to have a “concrete goal” as the first step.

“We’re picking people to do a job, but we haven’t told them what their job is other than the broad concept of promoting equity,” he said. “Other than that broad concept, what are we asking them to do?

“You don’t know who to put on the committee if you don’t know what you want them to do. Let’s figure out what we want.”

Village President Cathy Adduci and Trustee Respicio Vazquez noted that the process for forming the village’s Age-Friendly Committee, which Vazquez heads, began with creating goals.

“Before we get there, I think we need to set out the goals and the mission and the purpose kind of like what we did with the Age-Friendly Committee,” Adduci said. 

Palm agreed with Adduci that staff members are asking to begin the conversation by talking about the goal, purpose and mission of the group.

“I think that would be the next step,” he said. “We would want to memorialize and get feedback from the board in terms of how we then go ahead.”

“It sounds like there’s consensus that we need to build the goals and mission,” Adduci said, adding she would assign to staff the task of “taking the lead on that in terms of beginning that discussion.”

Palm said he and Lisa Scheiner, assistant village administrator, will work on that and have an update at the next village board meeting.

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