White council member figuratively-shushed black council member who called for more diversity at June Nominating and Rules Committee meeting
JONESBORO, Ark. – At the June 19 meeting of the Nominating and Rules Committee of the City of Jonesboro, Chairman David McClain called for more diversity on the Wolverine Property Downtown Corridor Committee, the meeting minutes detail.
John Street, a council member on the same committee, said he’s been here for 16 years and in that time, it’s always been up to the mayor, only. Street told McClain their job was to vote it up or down only, suggesting the committee had no voice in promoting diversity other than to vote no, without reason.
McClain is a black male while Street is a white male, as are the majority on the city council and on other committees, including LJ Bryant. However, unlike Street, Bryant seemed to take a more reasoned approach to public debate in the democratic process. Continuing the discussion, he recalled when the Girl Scouts visited the council chambers and a little girl asked Council member Ann Williams why there were not more girls.
The innocent eyes of a child perceived the problem and owing no obedience to the current administration’s disposition to ignore inconvenient problems, she spoke up.
“That seems to be a challenge in this city is that when we look to a bank president or whatever, there’s not as much diversity in those positions so I know it makes it more difficult for the administration to go out and find a woman bank president or a woman vice-chancellor, or whatever it is,” said LJ Bryant, according to the meeting minutes.
Street insisted it was up to the mayor to appoint whoever he wanted. While he did admit the members of the committee could vote no, his argument that the mayor not be questioned seemed strange. He explained to McClain what his perception of their job duties were – a yes or no vote, only.
Then, council member Bobby Long chimed in and asked what type of insight that “those additional people” would bring. Having displayed his propensity to side with Perrin in the past, Long then asked the mayor what his thoughts were.
Perrin defended his choices based on qualifications.
While Long continued to frame questions in the defensive sense for Perrin, he asked what deficiencies that “these people” would bring that are not already filled by the names on the committee. McClain said the main thing is a different look.
“If you look at the names and everybody who is on there, it’s an all-white, male feel,” McClain explained. “All of them are qualified, but, at the same time, what does our city look like?”
Perrin said he agreed with McClain on diversity. He said he had been given names by Mr. Kapil Bajaj,at the New York Institute of Technology’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, but then expressed his reservations.
“It’s very difficult to even get them some of these people to serve on some of these committees,” Perrin said, according to the minutes.
Council member Street chimed in with his support for the mayor’s defense.
“With a lot of the other commissions and things, too, and I have served on as many as you have over the years, a lot of them are appointed and they don’t show up the first time or they show up once and they won’t come back,” Street said. “These are fairly serious. You’re wasting the committee’s time and everybody else’s involved if you don’t have people who are involved in the process and committed to helping make a decision.”
Following the June meeting, Perrin revisited the matter and made a change. The mayor decided to appoint Andrea Allen and Pastor Jamar Andrews to the board, proving Street’s theory on debating appointments wrong.
Despite some of the questionable language and terminology from those who seemed defensive at the idea of diversity, Bryant heard the problem and proposed a step in the right direction.
On Thursday, July 12, Bryant sent an email to McClain and Donna Jackson, city clerk, proposing an ordinance recognizing how important diversity is while committing the city council to encouraging and supporting the diverse citizens of the Jonesboro community in their public service.
“The goal is for us to be intentional about making sure Jonesboro’s diversity is represented on boards and commissions,” Bryant said to NEA Report Tuesday. “That diversity is a range of things from race, age, gender, geographic, wards, and it’s important that we’re intentional about that. There’s been boards and commissions which have various requirements. As a growing city, it’s really important that we have everybody’s perspective and everybody’s buy-in into the various aspects of the city so that we’ve considered all perspectives.”
Bryant said he has not sensed much resistance to it as of this publication but won’t know until 4:45 PM what will happen.
“This measure, I think, is important and I think it is good,” Bryant said. “It could have been a lot more restrictive and could have required one woman out of every five appointments. I thought for now, it was best for us to take this under consideration and monitor things going forward.”
Bryant said the measure could still be amended with further and more strict requirements, such as requiring one female appointment for every five men appointed. However, he said he felt this measure was enough to create hope for the future to make headway into more diverse appointments.
In other words, not just old white men.
Perrin’s appointments, including Allen and Andrews, will be voted on at a special meeting of the Nominating and Rules Committee today. It will be held at 4:45 PM. A vote on the diversity resolution is also planned.
NEA Report reached out for comment from John Street, Bobby Long, and David McClain. We did not receive a response as of this publication but will update this story once we do, annotating updates with timestamps.