Consultant would help officials identify problems, seek solutions

By Ed Nadolski

Editor in Chief

Burlington Mayor Jeannie Hefty said she bristles each time she reads a newspaper story or social media post in which someone labels Burlington a racist community.

“I have rejected that from the beginning,” Hefty said when asked to consider the events of the past year, which have bruised Burlington’s reputation when it comes to matters of race.

The mayor acknowledges that, like most communities, Burlington has residents who may be racist, but she said the Burlington she knows is a welcoming and inclusive community with a long history of helping people of color dating back to the days of the Underground Railroad.

However, if the problem is more than perception, Hefty wants to find out what it is and take steps to fix it.

Jeannie Hefty

Hefty is prepared to pitch her idea of forming a Mayor’s Task Force on Racism, Social Injustice, Diversity and Inclusion to the Common Council. She intended to present the proposal at Tuesday’s meeting, but fell ill shortly before the meeting and the matter was tabled.

It is now tentatively scheduled for consideration by the Committee of the Whole at the March 16 meeting.

The proposal needs council approval because it includes an expenditure of at least $10,250 for a consultant to conduct a community-driven investigation of current conditions and attitudes, and recommend solutions to any problems identified.


A time of ‘crisis’

Hefty said protests and counter-protests of the past summer followed by incidents of racism involving local students and accusations on social media created a crisis for the Burlington area in the form of a public relations nightmare.

“I could not just stand there and do nothing,” Hefty said Tuesday.

The need to address problems of social injustice, maintain order and protect the area’s reputation are matters that demand action, according to Hefty.

“Once you start getting tagged that way (as a racist community), who wants to bring a business here – who wants to move here,” she said. “It effects one thing after another.”

The proposed Task Force, according to Hefty, has two purposes: To identify the local issues surrounding race; and propose solutions to improve any problems identified in the first step.

According to the written summary of the Task Force proposal prepared by City Administrator Carina Walters, the plan is to hire Organization Development Consultants of Brookfield to lead the process.

In the meantime, Hefty has been busy assembling a list of local residents and business people who would serve on the Task Force. The goal, she said, is to seat 24 people from diverse backgrounds who represent all sectors of the community.

Among the participants will be people of different races. She said an invitation will be extended to the Burlington Coalition for Dismantling Racism to provide two members for the panel.

      To read the full version of this story see the March 4 edition of the Burlington Standard Press.