Home Lawrence Ledger Lawrence Ledger News Lawrence Township Council dissolves one committee and creates a new one

Lawrence Township Council dissolves one committee and creates a new one

In the days following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Lawrence Township officials were concerned that residents who looked different – who wore a turban or who looked like Osama bin Laden or just didn’t look like others – would be attacked or villainized.

To counter those misperceptions, the Lawrence Township Council created the Human Relations Committee in 2002. The goal, said then-Mayor Doris Weisberg, was to bring people together and learn about each other and their respective cultures.

Diversity Day, which was the committee’s signature event, featured guest speakers, a sampling of ethnic food and entertainment that ranged from dance to Chinese calligraphy and paper folding.

Fast-forward to 2021, and the needs are different, township officials said. Lawrence Township is a diverse community, and some township officials believe it’s time for a fresh start – to move into the 21st century and reflect today’s climate.

That’s why the Lawrence Township Council has disbanded the Human Relations Committee and formed the Lawrence Township Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.

The Township Council voted 3-1 on the two ordinances – one to dissolve the Human Relations Committee and another to create the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee – at its Oct. 5 meeting.

Township Councilman Michael Powers cast the lone dissenting vote. Mayor Jim Kownacki and Councilmen Christopher Bobbitt and John Ryan voted in favor. Councilwoman Cathleen Lewis was absent.

Powers said he would have preferred to amend the ordinance so the Human Relations Committee members could stay on, but Kownacki said they could reapply to serve on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee when the council appoints the members in January 2022.

The former Human Relations Committee was charged with recommending and evaluating programs directed at increasing cultural awareness and celebrating cultural diversity, and to take such measures as necessary to promote cultural sensitivity within the township.

The newly created Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee will address issues related to, but not limited to, race, ethnicity, culture, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, national origin, veteran status, socio-economic class, religion and professional status.

The ordinance states that the Lawrence Township Council strives to celebrate equity, diversity and inclusiveness in the community and that it believes that everyone can contribute to promote and strengthen those core values.

“The council believes that equity, diversity and inclusion is an active process that requires continuous commitment to promote healthy people, a healthy community and the overall success of present and future generations,” the ordinance states.

“The council seeks to create and maintain opportunities for engagement, education and discourse to foster open-mindedness, compassion and inclusiveness within the community and beyond,” the ordinance states.

The 11-member Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee’s members will include people with diverse cultures, backgrounds and life experiences, according to the ordinance.

It will include at least one student and one police officer.

When the meeting was opened for public comment, residents Robin Bridges Johnson and Krista Gervon told the Township Council that they were afraid that the Human Relations Committee was going to be disbanded.

“We were concerned that the council was going to disband a committee that is needed at this time. We believe there is so much more that the committee could be doing. There are areas where there is a need for a revamping of the mission,” Johnson said.

Municipal Attorney David Roskos said the Human Relations Committee was formed nearly 20 years ago, and “it does not comport with today’s reality. The new committee is today’s reality. It’s about the mission statement, about what does the Township Council want.”

“This is the 21st century,” Kownacki said. “I agree, we have to start fresh.”

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