The biggest projects include a racial equity review of city code and policies, race, equity and leadership training for all city employees and the Athens 2040 Comprehensive Plan. Although some of the projects focus heavily on race, Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said the city is focused on equity overall.
The racial equity review of city code and policies was initially born out of Athens City Council declaring racism a public health crisis in June 2020. According to a previous Post report, Patterson built a task force that works with the city’s Racial Equity Coalition to inspect code for discriminatory or vague language.
So far, the review has led to some changes within city code and policies. Patterson said he was aware of Councilwoman Sarah Grace, D-At Large, and Councilman Micah McCarey, D-At Large, working to contain more gender-inclusive language in city legislation, removing “his” or “her” pronouns and replacing them with “their” pronouns.
Patterson also said he combed through municipal code but was unable to find any discriminatory language. Despite that, the city is staying mindful of inclusive language moving forward, he said, while also keeping an eye on any discriminatory language that arises.
Another initiative Athens has undertaken is city-wide race, equity and leadership, or REAL, training through the National League of Cities, or NLC, of which Athens is a member. In August, Council approved the training for all city employees, which includes a preliminary attitudinal survey and multiple levels of training, according to a previous Post report.
The training is designed to assist local leaders with implementing “safe places” for people of diverse racial, ethnic and cultural statuses, according to NLC’s website.
In addition to the REAL training and the review of city code and policies, the Athens 2040 Comprehensive Plan sets long-term goals to make Athens an equitable place for a wide range of populations. Although it was adopted by Council in December 2020, the plan has implications in 2021 and beyond.
According to the 80-page final verison of the plan, the initiative’s main objectives are centered around citizen engagement and concerns. It is also broken up into sections including housing and neighborhoods, sustainability and energy, and diversity and inclusion.
McCarey, as Council’s only member of color, is supportive of the plan and sees it as a starting point for much larger initiatives in the city.
“The plan gives us a really strong starting place for work that has to be ongoing,” McCarey said. “For instance, if we’re focusing on the diversity and inclusion aspect of the plan, it needs to highlight goals related to not only accessibility and race, but also the many other facets of diversity that we have in our community.”
With 2022 on the horizon and the city’s initiatives slowly progressing, McCarey wants to see people beyond city administration take responsibility for equitable changes to ensure the city puts its best foot forward in terms of progress.
“If you don't look at it as a top-down thing, like the city is responsible for the progress that we make in terms of diversity inclusion and instead say that we as a whole community are responsible for this work, then it gets easier to comprehend because we can look around to see what's good that we want to keep going and what's missing that we want to create,” he said.