Bishop Robert Brown – chair of the new Diversity, Equity and Equal Employment Commission – appeared at the City Council on Monday night and indicated he did not have a conversation with Councilor Gerly Adrien about being “okay” with bypassing the new Commission on one of her requests for information about the racial makeup of City Hall employees.
The matter has left the Council, Councilor Adrien, Mayor Carlo DeMaria and Bishop Brown in a very awkward position. Brown, a long-time spiritual leader in the community at Zion Church, said he did not tell Adrien that he would agree to have her request go to Human Resources instead of the Commission, and in fact, had asked that the request go to the new Commission (which Adrien also serves on) instead of to Human Resources. Councilor Adrien, however, had told the Council at the last meeting she had a conversation with Brown and he said he was “okay with it.”
On Monday night, the Council was left to sort out the awkward inconsistency.
Adrien’s request did not pass at the last meeting, but some councilors voted for it on the information from Adrien that Brown supported her actions. One of them was Councilor Michael McLaughlin, and combined with Councilor Stephanie Martins, they brought the request back to the Council for reconsideration Monday night.
“I find it disgusting,” said Martins in a point of personal privilege on Monday, saying as someone that has spent her professional career promoting diversity, she didn’t like having people give false information in public and also disparaging others on Facebook.
In a letter to the Council on Monday, Bishop Brown said he did not tell Adrien it was ok, and he would like to have the request routed to his Commission.
“During that presentation, there was a reference to a conversation between Councilor Adrien and myself which stated that I was agreeable to the resolution by-passing the Commission,” he wrote. “I would like to correct erroneous information provided to the Council in this regard. I did not agree to this action nor did I indicate that the resolution should or could by-pass the Commission.”
At the Council, Brown told the body he had actually contacted Council President Rosa DiFlorio the morning of the last meeting to ask that Adrien’s request not by-pass his Commission. He said when he saw the meeting, and heard about Adrien’s comments, he had to pause and reflect.
“I did not support the motion,” he said. “When I first heard it, I had to think for a minute and I did not have that conversation.”
McLaughlin said he voted in favor of Adrien’s request only because she told the Council that Brown approved of it. He said he wouldn’t have voted for it if he had known the full truth of the matter.
“I voted for this to go to Human Resources because I was led to believe it was your request,” he said. “I have known Bishop Brown since I was a kid so I have tremendous respect for him. If he’s going to ask us as a body to do something, then I’m going to consider it very closely…I am frustrated that this wasn’t your request. It has me very concerned and confused.”
Councilor Adrien did not speak during the discussion at the meeting Monday, and was not called upon to speak on the matter either. After the meeting, she said the Commission is something the mayor has come up with and is working too slow. She said her request for racial and gender and ethnicity statistics for City Hall employees needed to be acted upon much quicker than the Task Force could move on it. In her statement, though, she did not directly address the inconsistency about whether the conversation with Bishop Brown took place or not.
“When diversity should be a priority for the Mayor and his administration, my request for the true plan for Diversity at City Hall is being pushed off to the Diversity Group that is still in formation,” she wrote. “The Diversity Group has no plans in the next 90 days to even touch diversity at City Hall. When City Hall has three current job openings, actions would have been displayed louder by showing in 30 days to provide the report. It is sad that Everett, as diverse as it is, it still needs to wait for the Mayor’s answers on what the facts are. “Diversity was never a priority for City Hall and only was when I, as a councilor, started making noise about it, the group has started,” she continued. “The residents of Everett deserve better representation at City Hall. I will continue to use my voice as a City Councilor to hold the Mayor accountable on where the taxpayer’s funds should be going. Bishop Brown has noted to me that in my role as a City Councilor, I can continue to use my voice as I feel – as long as it does not disparage the group’s work. To put this report on hold is not fair at a time when we are trying to combat racism.”
Mayor DeMaria said the Commission exists to unify the City, and he was disappointed to hear of anyone disparaging the work of the Commission.
“The Commission on Diversity, Equity, and Equal Opportunity is guided by a philosophy that Bishop Brown often states: Unity in Community,” said the mayor. “As a result of the divisiveness demonstrated in our country, this Commission was formed to engage our diverse population, study policies that impact people of color in our city, and address any and all forms of racism that may exist. The members of this board were picked because of their background, education, experience, and training. I’m disappointed in anyone who discredits the Commission and promotes outright divisiveness in our City. The very goal of this group is to eradicate division and promote unity. Thank you to all who continue to serve our City in this capacity, as their role is more important than ever.”
At Monday’s meeting, Bishop Brown said the Commission is just getting its feet under it, and he said it will be critical in helping to identify and fix the problems of racism, exclusion and structural barriers that exist around the country and in Everett too.
For the Council, several in the aftermath of the meeting indicated there was discussion amongst the membership of censuring Councilor Adrien, as her incorrect statement about Bishop Brown’s support led others to vote for her request erroneously. Members in the recent past have been subject to censure, or proposed censure, over inappropriate or misleading behavior, so it would not be a first.