It was a little confusing.
Facing criticism from a couple of residents over the City of Santa Clarita Human Relations Roundtable after the group took a stance in favor of replacing the Hart High School Indians mascot, Mayor Bill Miranda contended that the roundtable “is not an official arm of the city in any way, shape or form.”
Well, if it’s not an “official arm of the city,” then what is it? It was formed after last summer’s social justice protests, at the behest of then-Mayor Cameron Smyth, in cooperation with the William S. Hart Union High School District.
The idea was borne out of informal discussions among well-meaning people who wanted to promote racial harmony and inclusiveness in the city of Santa Clarita. Those are worthy goals and no reasonable person would take issue with them.
But the execution of the roundtable’s creation, and its subsequent operation, has been… fuzzy.
No formal City Council vote was ever taken, as far as we know. If there was one, we can’t find it in the council meeting minutes. There was an apparent consensus on the council that it was a good idea. Next thing you know, the city was moving forward, creating the roundtable, to consist of about 15 representatives (later 20) who would strive to promote those concepts of inclusiveness and harmony. The city clearly ran point on the roundtable’s creation and operation, expending staff time and other resources in putting it together, developing its rules and mission, publicizing it, creating its website, and hosting its meetings.
It’s unclear at this point how much it might have “cost” in specific dollars, but substantial public city funds and resources have been expended on the roundtable. Creating a website and its content, crafting the details of how the roundtable would be set up, creation of press releases, scheduling and supporting meetings, providing materials and staff support… It adds up.
Once formed, the group has chosen not to hold its meetings in public — ostensibly because that creates a higher comfort level for its members to speak freely.
However, at least one member, who has resigned, contends that “speaking freely” in roundtable meetings is a luxury only afforded to those members who agree that Santa Clarita is a systemically racist city, among other things. Other viewpoints are not welcome.
Further? The roundtable is only a wiggle’s worth of a technicality away from being subject to the Ralph M. Brown Act, the state’s open-meeting law. If it had been formed with a formal council vote, as opposed to the wink and a nudge of a non-agendized consensus, those closed-door meetings would be arguably illegal.
The unintended consequence? The city has created itself a secretive cabal of like-minded individuals who don’t seem much interested in “inclusiveness” if it’s not the kind of inclusiveness they desire. Hence, it’s exclusive in nature.
We’ve said this before and it bears repeating: The city of Santa Clarita is extremely well-run. We are proud to live here and work here, and on the whole our city does a tremendous job of providing local government services, responding to citizen needs, fostering a safe and inviting community, and operating efficiently.
So, this is not a condemnation of the city on the whole — but this was a misstep. If city leaders — and, let’s not forget the Hart district, which is officially a “partner” in the roundtable but has kept a lower profile — really want a human relations roundtable that brings the community together, rather than fostering division, several steps should be taken.
1) The roundtable should immediately begin meeting in public, and invite community members to participate. And, plan on doing as much listening as talking.
2) The roundtable should truly strive for diversity, and that includes diversity of thought, and diversity of opinions. If you want to bring people who see things differently together to promote greater mutual understanding and acceptance, you need to get them in the same room. Liberal, conservative and moderate voices should all be heard and treated with respect.
3) The city should either take full ownership and responsibility for what it has created, or divest itself of the initiative altogether.
The goals that prompted the creation of the City of Santa Clarita Human Relations Roundtable are honorable ones. Hopefully, going forward, the city and the roundtable will take the necessary steps to achieve them.