Wellesley learned in September it was not selected for a Racial Equity Municipal Action Plan (REMAP) grant from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. Undeterred, town officials vowed to continue with efforts to address diversity, equity, and inclusion. It’s unclear whether another round of these grants will be forthcoming.
On Monday the Board of Selectmen (soon to be the Select Board) discussed the possibility of hiring a consultant to help the town create a diversity, equity, and inclusion task force. Other communities have taken all sorts of approaches, from diving right in through their Select Boards to relying more on grassroots efforts.
“Selecting and creating the charge of the task force is the first step to success,” said Wellesley Executive Director Meghan Jop. “When we’ve contemplated how best to start it has been a challenge. To make sure that you’re being inclusive in terms of discussing diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
Once a task force is established, its job will be to come up with an action plan, figure out what kind of budget it might need, and more.
Board member Lisa Olney said that she has heard the same theme from discussions she has had with other communities that have addressed diversity issues or looked into them. “Towns that sort of dove right in and tried to immediately act on their own and create a task force, sometimes there was a bit of a backlash when it didn’t turn out to be a particularly representative group or didn’t feel like a representative group,” she said. It’s a matter of making sure “that everyone who needs to be at the table has been invited to be at the table,” she added, noting that this particularly includes involving people who traditionally aren’t involved in town government.
Several board members were supportive of hiring a consultant, but the question unanswered was how to pay for it at a time the town is squeezed financially and asking other committees to rein in spending. Jop did say the board has some discretionary funds that could be directed to this effort, and the idea was also raised about seeking funding from a community nonprofit whose focus might align with this issue.
In the end, the board decided to have its working group collect more information on funding and other resources, and pick up the discussion after the new year.
Sign stealing addressed
Speaking about another diversity-related matter, Jop gave an update on the town’s efforts to stop sign stealers.
Representatives from the Committee to Preserve Wellesley’s Italian American Heritage have documented during recent citizen’s speak portions of Board of Selectmen meetings how they’ve had signs stolen from their yards, both by high school and Wellesley College students. Wellesley and Wellesley College Police have been involved in helping to track down and speak to those involved in the thefts. Wellesley College President Dr. Paula Johnson has also reportedly addressed the situation on campus.
Sign stealing has been an ongoing issue in town, with Black Lives Matter signs being taken or defaced over the summer, and political signs being stolen or swapped in years gone by. But with the issue being brought forth at the recent board meetings, the town has started to take a more public approach to addressing it.
“Freedom of speech is not something the town is going to take lightly,” Jop said. At this point the discipline appears to have been stern talking tos and learning moments, via a community policing approach. But the message seems to be that more severe actions could be taken if thefts continue.
“We want everyone to feel they can express themselves freely through signage, through advocacy, through whichever means necessary but not through stealing of signs and infringing on an individual’s first amendment rights,” Jop said. Where and how signs can be placed is regulated by the town, but the messaging cannot and should not be, she said.