Charleston City Council voted down two attempts in two months to make permanent a city panel devoted to rooting out institutional racism, leaving members and supporters wondering where to go from here and why it was rejected in the first place.
Initially created as an outgrowth of City Council’s 2018 formal apology for Charleston’s role in perpetuating slavery, the Commission on Equity, Inclusion and Racial Conciliation assembled dozens of local residents to take a hard look at vestiges of racism that remain in city government. The group’s August report names 125 specific approaches to rethink local institutions, from law enforcement reform and reparations to public transit funding.
Scrutiny of a handful of the report’s bolder points led some leaders to temper their support.
The final Sept. 14 measure to reject making the city’s Commission on Equity, Inclusion and Racial Conciliation permanent narrowly failed, 7-6. Votes in favor came from Councilmembers Dudley Gregorie, Carol Jackson, Robert Mitchell, Jason Sakran, Keith Waring and Mayor John Tecklenburg. Councilmembers Marie Delcioppo, Kevin Shealy, Karl Brady, Mike Seekings, Peter Shahid, Harry Griffin and Ross Appel voted against the measure.
But the initial rejections don’t mean the panel is gone for good.
“There is nothing new to announce regarding the commission other than we are working through language on the proposed ordinance to make it permanent,” commission co- chair Sakran told the City Paper.
Making the commission permanent would provide a mechanism to keep city leaders accountable on progress on the report’s recommendations, Sakran explained. But even without it, some work could be done.
“All 125 of those recommendations were received by the council … and have been divided up by standing committees,” Sakran said. “The work is continuing behind the scenes. The commission lasted for over a year, and I don’t view this as a huge hiccup. It’s a part of the public process.”
However, some say without the permanent commission holding folks accountable, it’s unlikely that real change will come.
“You had top-notch people on this commission — some of the best and most skilled experts we have locally — volunteering their time to advise the city on how to be bigger and better,” said commission member Kimberly Butler. “I am reluctant to believe that our council members will remain accountable if we don’t have that permanent commission.”
Even if it were made permanent, there’s still no guarantee that any of the proposals will be accomplished or even moved toward. But Butler said some of the recommendations should seem like obvious steps, like reducting poverty rates in Black communities, introducing anti-bias training for city officials or establishing a Fair Housing Assistance Program.
“I’m not so crazy to think that everything we proposed will or even has to be accomplished for us to see demonstrable change, but a lot of it is low-hanging fruit,” she said.
Sakran said the recommendations outlined in the report are in the process of being distributed to standing committees with plans for work to begin soon.
Commission co-chairs Dudley Gregorie and Sakran have expressed some optimism for the commission’s future, saying the measure’s wording may be the largest barrier for some council members.
“I am optimistic,” Sakran said. “We are working with a few council members that voted no about some of the reasons they voted no and trying to tweak some of the language. There are no guarantees, of course, but the lines of communication are open.”