The city of Martinez will seek the help of a professional facilitator not only in leading a newly formed racial and social justice task force, but also in helping recruit and select committee members.

Last week, after months of discussions and a member selection process panned for selecting too many white people for the initial group, the council formally created the Anti-Racism and Discrimination and Pro-Inclusion and Diversity Task Force, and opted to change up the recruitment process to be more aggressive in seeking out people of color.

A facilitator experienced in social justice and equity issues, council members said at their Wednesday night meeting, will drive that process.

“I think that will be the key to the success of the task force no matter who’s going to be on it,” Mayor Rob Schroder said.

The City Council first approved the concept for such a panel on July 29. Its main tasks will be to review city policies, programs and procedures for bias, and to help make city committees and commissions more inclusive.

The idea was suggested after several incidents in Martinez following the death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police, and subsequent public discussions about racism and “Black Lives Matter” in the city.

The city sought applications for prospective panelists, and a separate six-person community panel interviewed and selected prospective members. That first panel, presented to the council on Oct. 21, comprised nine members and two alternates, and included seven white members and only one Black member. That lack of diversity prompted Wednesday’s decision to redo the process.

A list of demands

Council members also supported a list of demands from unspecified “concerned community members advocating for equity and inclusion.”

The demands, which came in an Oct. 30 letter to the city, include allowing community members to revise or supplement member application questions; to reopen the applicant pool and provide a more robust recruitment plan; reforming the task force member selection panel, and choosing more pointedly qualified panel members; making task force applicant interviews public; and increasing the number of potential appointees on the task force (no specific number had been outlined by Wednesday).

“The entity that wrote the letter … whoever that person or persons are, they ought to be on the task force,” Councilman Mark Ross said.

Unlike at past meetings, where public commenters criticized the council for moving too slowly, or moving too fast, or for the flawed recruitment, it was mostly praise that flowed the council’s way Wednesday for this revised new selection process, and for the depth of the racial equity issue in general.

“I appreciate that our town is really deep into these discussions,” said Laura Ebbert of Martinez, who described herself as indigenous and a member of the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma. “I think it’s the responsibility of all members of our community to engage in these kinds of discussions.”

Councilwoman Lara DeLaney, a senior deputy Contra Costa County administrator, said she has been helping with forming a county Office of Racial Equity and Social Justice; she expects that to come before the county Board of Supervisors in the near future.

The time for these often difficult conversations, in Martinez and beyond, is upon us, DeLaney said.

“It’s a continual learning process for people like myself who are not of color,” she said.