After hosting a series of Civic Dinners on Inclusion and Belonging in 2020 to bring diversity and racial equality issues out in the open, the city of Sandy Springs still has a long way to go to address those problems.
“One thing that was very clear is there are significant groups within our community that don’t feel a part of the community at large,” Mayor Rusty Paul said of the dinners’ outcome. “After getting all the feedback, it is clear we need to have dialogue and put together ideas and solutions and programs and policies to help … everybody in our community feel welcome and wanted and needed.”
At the Sandy Springs City Council’s Feb. 2 work session, which was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Paul unveiled the Sandy Springs Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, which the city has planned to form since the fall to address those issues.
The task force will be chaired by Jim Bostic Jr, managing director of HEP & Associates. Its other members are Desmond X. Curry, a billing specialist with Rubin Lublin; Raquel Gonzalez, the Sandy Springs city clerk; Rabbi Joshua Heller of Congregation B’nai Torah; Nicole Morris, a professor at Emory University School of Law; the Rev. Bill Murray, rector of Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church; Sandy Springs Police Sgt. Salvador “Sal” Ortega; Jose Osorio, assistant principal at Lake Forest Elementary School; Olivia Rocamora, Spanish department chair and Spanish immersion program coordinator at The Weber School; and Clarissa Sparks, founder and brand strategist for Sparks + Co.
Paul said the task force could be expanded if he’s able to convince some other candidates to join it. Task force members must live or work in Sandy Springs, and each will serve a two-year term. Its meetings will be posted to the city’s online calendar, along with a meeting agenda, in accordance with the Open Public Meetings Act.
During the work session, council members asked about how the task force will interact with the city’s government and how often they’ll report to the council. District 3 Councilman Chris Burnett asked, “Will this committee create their own engagement and processes? Or will it be independent?”
In response, Paul said, “It’s going to be independent from the point of view that it’s not just looking at city policies and what the city can do. It will be a part of it. … We’ll tap into communities that feel, I don’t want to say estranged, but not included. Are there cultural barriers? Are there policy barriers? What’s preventing them from being a part of the community? What are the factors? They’ve got to get into that. …
“If I give them a job description, they’re not going to be able to dig deep into the issue. We want them to look into this, especially with minorities. … They’ve got to ask a lot of questions to get us there.”