After expanding the group to increase diversity, the Durham City Council Monday unanimously approved the appointment of 17 city residents to its new Racial Equity Task Force.
The group will make recommendations to the council on how to make Durham a more “racially equitable” city, according to Mayor Steve Schewel.
“Systemic racism and racial inequality continue to permeate our American society and Durham is no exception,” Schewel told the 9th Street Journal. “We have to make every effort to change that.”
North Carolina Superior Court Judge Elaine O’Neal, interim dean of the North Carolina Central University School of Law, will chair the task force.
The group will likely investigate issues such as poverty, housing, policing and healthcare over its one-year term, Schewel said. Mayor Pro Tempore Jillian Johnson will serve as a non-voting advisor to the task force.
First announced by Schewel in February, the task force was originally supposed to have 12 members.
However, the council agreed to a group of 17 after council member Mark-Anthony Middleton objected to the lack of black men in the original group of 12. Schewel said the council was planning to add two at-large black men to those elected, but they ultimately pushed that total up to four by expanding the task force to 17 members.
The Durham Herald-Sun reported that the task force consists of five black women, four black men, four white women, two white men and two Latina women.
Sixty citizens applied to an open call for applicants that closed in August, Schewel said. Members of the committee were requested to have completed racial equity training within the previous five years or become trained by two months after being appointed. The city offered subsidies for the training.
Councilmembers respond to NC Central shooting
On Monday, N.C. Central students protested the shooting of DeAndre Ballard, who was a 23-year old senior when he was shot in the parking lot of his off-campus apartment in September.
Ballard was shot by a security guard, whose company claims the killing was in self-defense.
Two members of the public voiced their concerns ahead of the vote on the racial equity task force, saying racial equity should include equity in policing. City Manager Thomas Bonfield emphasized that the shooting is still under investigation and that Durham police are still waiting on a number of lab tests.
“Please do not label silence as non-vigilance and non-concern,” Middleton added. “This investigation is ongoing and active.”
Freeman pushes contractors on diversity
Councilmember DeDreana Freeman continued Monday to question potential city contractors about their commitment to diversity.
After a five-year study commissioned in 2013 that found only 3 percent of contracts it awarded were to minority and women-owned firms, the city set goals for minority and women business participation. Freeman said she was concerned by the lack of diversity at Transforce Inc., which was approved to sell the city 11 replacement dump trucks for a price tag of nearly $1.7 million.
“Most of my experience was outside the United States, living and working in 49 countries, so I’m very well aware of what diversity can bring to a company,” said Matt Walsh, Transforce vice president of sales. “We are making strong efforts to gain that diversity.”
Walsh said Transforce has made “marked improvements” in diversity in the two years he has been with the company.
Freeman also asked for workforce diversity statistics from Freese and Nichols, Inc. for a $1.2 million engineering project and to accept a fencing donation for Durham Miracle Athletic Park from Miracle League of the Triangle, Inc. Bonfield pushed back on Freeman, saying that they traditionally had not required diversity statistics on those sorts of deals.
In spite of Freeman’s objections, The Council unanimously approved both contracts—including Freeman’s votes.
Freeman applauded Sharp Business Systems of North Carolina—which was awarded a nearly $500,000 contract for multi-functional devices—for its commitment to diversity.