Sometimes, doing absolutely nothing can create a firestorm.
That’s what the Lincoln City Council did earlier this month when it blatantly ignored funding requests from the Lincoln Diversity and Inclusion Commission. Aldermen didn’t merely reject what the diversity panel sought, they all but pretended the requests were never made. Talk about government inaction.
Out of the starting gate, it’s important to note the city council itself created this commission on diversity in 2020. The new panel, consisting of 12 members, was to include community members from all demographics to ensure that it’s known “the City of Lincoln appreciates, recognizes and welcomes all types of people to our community.”
As an aside I cannot ignore, the commission, although organized in October 2020, is not listed under the “boards and commissions” tab on the city’s official website. Only two boards – one on historic preservation and the other on civil service (which the city council would like to abolish) – are listed under the tab. If we are to believe the city’s website, the diversion commission simply doesn’t exist, much like the council treated its funding requests.
The current controversy involves the commission asking the city to help fund two upcoming local celebrations. One is for Juneteenth on June 19, the country’s newest national holiday commemorating the end of slavery, and the other is a local Pride celebration by the local LGTB community, to be held a week after the June 19 observance.
The city’s diversity commission made individual requests for the city to help fund the two events. At the council session, Alderman Sam Downs made a motion to approve a $2,500 donation for the Juneteenth observance. Downs also made the motion to approve a $1,500 grant for the LGBT celebration. But both motions were met with silence from council members. The lack of a second essentially blocked any discussion of the requests and both were recorded as “no” votes.
Without saying it happened this way, the council’s inaction gives the appearance this might have been a pre-planned way to handle these requests without having to say a word. After all, both matters dealt with issues that are controversial in the national Republican party’s scope of importance. Add to that the fact the Lincoln City Council is a 100 percent GOP club.
Jennifer Hunt spoke at the council’s voting session on behalf of the Juneteenth committee. She mentioned learning that the city had funded other Lincoln festivals and had given each one quite a bit of cash. She was there to ask the city to also provide funding for Juneteenth. Her request was for $10,000. Kelsey Edwards was representing the Pride committee and requested $3,500 for that celebration.
In fairness to the council, aldermen have had plenty to say about both requests when the diversity panel appeared twice before the council with their funding requests. Spokesmen for both observances said similar events in previous years had generated crowds in the 200 to 250 range. That seemed excessive to aldermen who trimmed the proposed request for $10,000 to $2,500. Pride organizers saw their $8,500 proposal trimmed to $1,500.
Funding for both events was to come from the city’s share of the hotel-motel tax, which is generated by overnight visitors to Lincoln, not local taxpayers. During those previous discussions, some aldermen said organizers of the two events should take their funding requests to the local tourism bureau, which receives a large portion of the hotel-motel tax. Among those disagreeing with that solution was Mayor Tracy Welch, who said the city relies on its small portion of the tax to fund city-sponsored events like Third Friday celebrations on the courthouse square.
Not surprisingly, the city council’s refusal to even bring the funding requests to a vote brought a response from the Diversity and Inclusion Commission. In an unsigned letter to the council, the commission stated:
“… the D&I Commission asks you, members of the City Council, who created and approved this Commission, to remember that you tasked us to do the following:
“The City of Lincoln Diversity & Inclusion Commission connects citizens to resources, promotes community programs and events, and shares concerns and recommendations to the City Council to ensure citizens of Lincoln, IL have a voice as it relates to issues of diversity, inclusion, and equity.
“Supporting the Juneteenth and Pride events was the chance to begin this journey of connection, support, and inclusivity.
“You had the opportunity to show who we could be as a community and instead you showed who you are, now.
“We did our job, now we ask you to do yours!!”
The council also heard a response from former Lincoln alderman Ron Keller, who noted in a letter his involvement in creating the diversity commission while he was still in office. He had this to say in his letter to council members:
“I watched the city council proceedings with interest this past week in anticipation of the agenda item relating to the request for $2,500.00 from Hotel/ Motel Tax Fund for the Juneteenth Celebration. I wish to share my extreme disappointment and ask you to reassess your decision.
‘As a reminder, just a few years ago the city council approved, authorized, and assigned the Diversity and Inclusion Commission with the task to create incentives and programming to increase the awareness and appreciation for diversity of all kinds within our community. I was proud to play a role in realizing this needed commission, and was happy to see that the commission’s members immediately and fervently took the tasks they were given to heart.
“My last few months on the council in 2021 witnessed the exciting planning for a Juneteenth celebration, which took place last year, and which was very successful by all accounts. I wonder how many on the council bothered to attend the event.
“I understand the council is not obligated to carry out the requests even of its own commissions. I have no issue with that. What I have an issue with in this case is the seeming lack of appreciation for what Juneteenth is, and how the lack of a vote conveys a tremendous disregard for our city’s participation in commemorating this event.
“I relay to you some reminders and observations:
“1. This request was for use of hotel/motel tax money, which is not subsidized by local taxpayers.
“2. The reason the request was rejected was not based on the lack of available hotel/motel tax money, as according to budget numbers there are sufficient funds for this event and others.
“3. Juneteenth is a NATIONAL holiday. Thus, Juneteenth sits alongside July 4th, Memorial Day, Labor Day or any other holiday in its importance. Assume some veterans came before the council and wanted to have an event, would you not even second the motion and vote on it? Would you simply chalk veterans as some demographic, which doesn’t represent the majority population, and not even second the motion?
“Would you consider a veterans’ event as not worthy of funding? I highly doubt you would answer yes to those questions. And if you would approve a veterans’ event or a July 4th event, you should likewise highly consider and vote on a community Juneteenth event.
“Not even bothering to second the motion for this request – so as to invite the opportunity to discuss and vote on the item – sends a strong and clear message. It conveys the message that the city council does not deem Juneteenth as important enough, nor desires no role in helping an event which celebrates a national holiday.
“Juneteenth commemorates freedom. I thought we were all champions of freedom. But sadly and most detrimental, not even seconding this motion signals the lack of concern for minority voices and blatant disregard for the egregious struggles past and present that our fellow citizens have borne and carry still.
“It is not too late. I implore the Lincoln City Council to revisit this request at its next committee as a whole meeting. I encourage you to bring the request back to the table, discuss it, and at least give some monetary support as a sign of unity, solidarity, harmony and commonality.
“Thank you all for your service to the namesake city of Abraham Lincoln – the city named for the man who signed the Emancipation Proclamation – the act which led to Juneteenth.”
I’m writing this early in the week and have no indication at this time the city council will comply with Ron Keller’s suggestion to revisit the bad way it handled these requests. Doing so certainly is not a bad idea.
Dan Tackett is a retired managing editor of The Courier. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
via Lincoln Courier
April 27, 2022 at 08:30AM