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Decatur Diary | July 21, 2015

City Commission Green Lights Better Together Community Conversation: Details soon

In a unanimous vote at their July 20 meeting, Decatur city commissioners officially endorsed the recommendations of the Better Together Leadership Circle, clearing the way for a broad community process to cultivate a more just, welcoming, inclusive, equitable and compassionate experience for all who visit, live or work in the City of Decatur.

The culmination of the process will be the creation of a tangible Community Action Plan, spelling out specific recommendations for how the city or other resource organizations can, as directed in Principle B of the 2010 Strategic Plan, “encourage a diverse and engaged community.”

A community-wide conversation

For the past eight months, the all-volunteer Leadership Circle has been engaged in a sort of experiment — a conversation across differences — in order to, as consultant Mattice Haynes mentioned during the evening’s work session, “accomplish on a small scale what we’re hoping to bring together on a larger scale.”

Their conclusion, and what they presented to the city commission, is that the Decatur community has no shortage of diversity-related experiences and opinions, and no shortage of conversations around them with family, friends and other trusted contacts. For some, these conversations have been going on forever. For others, perhaps they’re just getting started. But what hasn’t happened is an opportunity for these conversations to transcend their small circles. Regardless of where anyone might stand, what we need now is a collective conversation that brings them all together.

This formed the basis for the Leadership Circle’s recommendations — a premise welcomed by Mayor Pro Tem Cunningham. “Part of what I’m looking forward to,” she said, “is the notion of intentional conversations where there’s people’s experience of truth. [..] My experience of the city can be very different from somebody else’s experience of the city.”

Realistic expectations, actionable results required

While committing city support in the form of staff time and capital resources, Commissioner Drake was quick to clarify that government’s ability to effect change around issues such as diversity has boundaries and that Better Together will most fully succeed as a community-owned and driven process. “We can get things started,” he said, “but carrying it forward is going to take a big part of the community — in and outside Decatur.”

“One thing that I’m learning,” added Mayor Pro Tem Cunningham, “is that this stuff doesn’t just happen by itself. There has to be leadership and thoughtfulness and a commitment. [..] I’m very glad that we’re doing this consciously and with intent and looking for a plan. One thing we do with our plans in the City of Decatur is that we act on them.”

The critical need for an actionable plan deliverable was an issue front and center. Commissioner Garrett stressed the need for specific action steps to ensure we “don’t just continue to talk about this but have some things that can be implemented over time — by a number of different groups, both the city and others.”

Mayor Baskett drove this point home. “How do we find the actual actions that we as an organization and all these participants and other assets we have in our community can take going forward that can actually make a difference long-term? If we can’t find a way to do that, we’ll be wasting out time.”

Some scenes from the evening:

Commissioner Cunningham and Mayor Baskett prior to the presentation.

Mayor Pro Tem Cunningham and Mayor Baskett prior to the presentation.

Attendees arrive.

Attendees arrive.

A full house.

A full house.

Presentation outlining the Leadership Circle's recommendations for engaging the Decatur community in a meaningful exploration of diversity in all its forms.

Presentation outlining the Leadership Circle’s recommendations for engaging the Decatur community in a meaningful exploration of diversity in all its forms.

Consultant Mattice Haynes opening the work session presentation.

Consultant Mattice Haynes opening the work session presentation.

Members of the Leadership Circle share their thoughts on how, as a diverse group themselves, they had to work across differences in developing their Better Together recommendations for the Commission.

Members of the Leadership Circle share their thoughts on how, as a diverse group themselves, they had to work across differences in developing their Better Together recommendations for the Commission.

Commissioner Drake asks about available resources to assist in the process.

Commissioner Drake asks about available resources to assist in the process.

Members of the Leadership Circle, immediately following their work session presentation to the city commission.

Members of the Leadership Circle, immediately following their work session presentation to the city commission.

Next Steps

With approval to move forward, the Leadership Circle will now fine-tune the schedule, as well as the details around how the community will be able to participate. Those details will be available shortly, so stay tuned.

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