The Richland City Council is warming up to the idea of declaring the city an “inclusive” community that celebrates people from all quarters and rejects hate, bigotry, homophobia and antisemitism.
The city’s elected leaders voted 5-0 this week to ask staff to draft a proclamation or document for it to consider in the future. The move follows months of requests from the community following the 2016 presidential election.
Councilwoman Sandra Kent was absent and Mayor Pro-tem Terry Christensen did not vote, citing uncertainty over what the council was being asked to approve. He said Richland’s existing mission statement already conveys its embrace of diversity.
Councilman Phil Lemley asked the council to discuss the topic during its routine business session this week. The issue wasn’t on the council’s published agenda, but Lemley had signaled his intent in advance and supporters packed the council chambers.
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Lemley read a lengthy, occasionally emotional statement asking his fellow council to step up.
He acknowledged he initially didn’t think it was necessary and seconded Christensen’s view that Richland’s vision statement already conveys its commitment to diversity.
His mind was changed, Lemley said, after he was mischaracterized by a woman after a meeting as a southern male blind to racism. He subsequently received a message through Facebook accusing him of turning a blind eye to the problem in Richland. Lemley is originally from Arkansas.
I do not believe this will cost this body anything. We all know it will have no legal standing
Phil Lemley, Richland councilman
If an inclusiveness statement or proclamation prevents any harassment or makes anyone feel more welcome in Richland, it would be worth it, said Lemley, who dedicated his plea to a Muslim protege, who has since died.
“I do not believe this will cost this body anything,” he said. “We all know it will have no legal standing.”
It is not clear how long it will take city staff to prepare a document for the council to consider. Four of seven seats on the council are up for election in November, making it a potential election topic.
“Inclusiveness” has been a surprisingly divisive topic in the Tri-Cities. It is often confused with “sanctuary” cities and counties, which offer shelter to undocumented immigrants. No Mid-Columbia entity has turned itself into a sanctuary.
In March, Consejo Latino Tri-Cities, Indivisible: Washington State 4th Congressional District and other groups launched an online petition, calling on Richland to pass an “inclusive city” document.
A similar proposal to the Kennewick City Council failed, with the council saying it wanted to give its diversity commission time to complete its job.
In February, the city of Pasco released a statement on immigration status, noting it does not ask about immigration status when providing services.
Tuesday’s meeting offered a rare view into the views of the Richland council on the charged topic.
I am Catholic. I live my faith. I do believe we should treat everyone with humility and humanity.
Dori Luzzo Gilmour, Richland councilwoman
“I’m always open to all viewpoints,” said Councilman Brad Anderson, who spoke at length about his Tri-City upbringing and his diverse array of friends and interests. He referred several times to being bullied for being bald.
Councilwoman Dori Luzzo Gilmour is a long-time supporter who said she was ecstatic when Lemley stepped up. She seconded his motion to draft a statement.
“I am Catholic. I live my faith. I do believe we should treat everyone with humility and humanity,” she said.
Christensen, the mayor pro-tem who didn’t vote, countered that he’s canvased his multi-race circle of friends and family and found no evidence of racism in Richland.
Mayor Bob Thompson raised concerns about violating free speech rights, but said he would support the effort of staff to create the statement because “it makes sense.”
“There isn’t anybody on this council that doesn’t believe in inclusivity,” he said.
The city council’s meeting, including inclusiveness can be viewed online.