Note: The following letter was sent Tuesday to Mayor Steve Schewel and the Durham City Council.
The Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People was established in 1935 as The Durham Committee on Negro Affairs. Its purpose is to serve as a public forum for discussion of community affairs, and, especially, the affairs of the Black community. The Durham Committee seeks to arrive at a consensus for the general improvement of African-Americans and their communities. Our mission requires us to review federal, state and municipal policies that affect our communities in predictable and unpredictable ways.
The Durham Committee congratulates you and the newly elected City Council members, for successfully securing majority votes in your electoral challenges. The citizens of the City of Durham have invested their confidence in your ability to administer the affairs of the City of Durham. We wish you well! The Durham Committee has observed, with great satisfaction, the publication of the vacancy for the City Council At-Large Seat. We are impressed that 23 Durham city residents submitted applications to fill the vacancy. We have reviewed the applications and observe that only one of the candidates appear to have a disqualifying record of not being a registered voter. We understand that one candidate withdrew her application. We note that all applicants, from their disclosures, have a range of education, experience and community involvement. Some applicants appear to be more eminently qualified than others. Some applicants are males, some are females, some are older, and some are younger.
Finally, we are pleased to see that the applicants represent the City of Durham’s ethnic diversity well. This dynamic is largely unchanged in your selection of the seven finalists. Great Job!
The Durham Committee is, however, very disappointed by reports that you, our mayor and leader of the City Council, has expressed a preference for the appointment of a Hispanic or Latino applicant to the City Council. This expression of a cultural or ethnic preference is insensitive to the other applicants, illegal because it favors one racial or ethnic group over others, and inappropriate because it is a “quota-based” preferential system of appointment. Race, ethnicity, gender and religion should not be factors that determine the make-up of the Durham City Council.
The Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People will play no part in a quota-based selection process that appears predetermined to exclude Durham citizens because they are of Black, White or Asian descent. Your expressed preference for a Hispanic or Latino appointee is a misstep that you should “walk-back.” We call on you to publicly retract the misstep and restore our confidence in your fair and transparent administration of Durham city’s affairs.
The Durham Committee supports the selection and appointment of an applicant for the City Council at-large seat if the applicant, upon joining the City Council, will support and work to:
1. Establish an inventory of low-income and public housing to meet the needs of Durham Citizens.
2. Establish equity and diversity in employment opportunities and contracting services.
3. Establish accountability, transparency and random drug screening rules for Durham city police officers.
4. Prioritize infrastructure development to promote safety and efficiency, including constructing effective pedestrian walkways in underserved communities.
5. Implement technological solutions to reduce growth in municipal spending while promoting efficiency.
The City of Durham has a record of intolerance for illegal discrimination. We support diversity and fairness. We call on all stakeholders to join us in developing a strategic plan to ensure our City Council’s appointment process is fair, transparent and accountable. We urge you to give immediate attention to this issue. The citizens of Durham are depending on you!
Omar Beasley is president of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. Keith A. Bishop is the chairman of the DCABP Political Committee.