Olympia City Council approves new Social Justice and Equity Commission

·2 min read

Olympia City Council on Tuesday night passed unanimously a proposal for a Social Justice and Equity Commission put forth by the Founding Members Work Group.

It marked the beginning of a months-long process to establish the commission which will work to eliminate racism in the city.

The Founding Members Work Group, made up of four Olympia residents from historically marginalized communities, has been operating since December 2020 to gather information from the public and from research into other commissions to develop plans and implementation strategies for the city’s commission.

The commission is to be made up of 11 people whose mission is to help mitigate and eliminate institutional racism and oppression in the city of Olympia, city manager Jay Burney said.

“It’s our responsibility to shape policy and make actions that reduce inequities,” Burney said. “The road is long, but we embrace it wholeheartedly.”

The work group introduced how the commission would function and why such a thing is needed at the city level.

The group outlined that historically marginalized communities need a safe and welcoming environment where they can issue complaints and they need to have representation in city planning, policing and decision making.

The commission will work to mediate issues and complaints through what the work group hopes will be a collaborative effort between the commission, residents and the city. The commission would receive complaints around discrimination and there would be an investigation into the incident. The commission would then help connect people to resources and people who can help further, if need be, and then the commission can conduct a hearing as needed and issue an order, though specifics will have to be ironed out once the commission once is created.

Another role of this group will be to review city policies and rule-making through an equity and justice lens. That work is yet to come, too, but Burney said the commission will be able to make recommendations directly to the City Council or to him.

Council member Lisa Parshley commended the work group for forming such a strong basis for the future commission.

“We asked you to come in and take just an idea, and you have taken it and given it wings,” she said. “You’ve given our city a path forward to hopefully being at a point where we do dismantle racism.”

Council member Renata Rollins said the work group discussed several concerns that needed consideration before attempting to establish a commission. She said it can’t just be a rubber stamp, but must actively work toward dismantling racism.

“This is, I hope, our protest of the injustices and the wounds that have marked our country since before it became the United States,” she said.