Multiple members of the Vancouver City Council, both new and returning, took their oath of office and selected the new mayor pro tem during a virtual meeting Monday evening.
The council welcomed Kim Harless and Diana Perez to the board and congratulated Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle and Councilor Erik Paulsen on their reelection.
“I look forward (to working with the council) to move the needle in all aspects so that everyone, at the end of the day, is living to their best potential,” Perez said.
Harless said she was excited to finally be at her first meeting and was pleasantly overwhelmed by the staff and community’s welcome.
During the meeting, Ty Stober was successfully elected with four votes from the council in an electronic vote as mayor pro tem. Sarah Fox and Paulsen were also nominated for the position. As mayor pro tem, Stober will assume all the powers of McEnerny-Ogle if she is called away from her position.
McEnerny-Ogle addressed the community’s desire for open council meetings, which have been virtual to limit the spread of COVID-19. The council agreed to meet with public health officials and discuss the matter to determine what the future format of meetings should be.
The presence of the new council members prompted the council and community members to reflect on the city’s goal of improving its diversity, equity and inclusion.
“As a white, cisgendered (and) gay male, I’m no longer the most diverse person on this council,” Stober said.
Harless, who is Indigenous and Chicana, and Perez, who is Latina, are the first women of color to serve on Vancouver’s council.
Fox reflected on when she joined the majority-female council in 2020. The council’s diversity can model what leadership looks like and inspire people to run for office. Youth will look at the city council and see themselves reflected in the board’s membership, she said.
Paulsen and Hansen said they are excited to tackle challenges with the knowledgeable and skilled team in the future.
Recognizing significant holidays
Council members unanimously approved amendments to formally codify three public holidays. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Native American Heritage Day and Juneteenth were observed by the city, but were never formally considered a holiday by the city.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day occurs on the third Monday in January and honors the achievements of the reverend in fighting for racial justice. Native American Heritage Day is observed on Nov. 25 and celebrates Indigenous cultures, traditions and history. Juneteenth falls on June 19 and commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S.
The proposed changes would strengthen community identity and improve services to underserved residents and further the council mission to address racial equity and justice, said city of Vancouver’s director of human resources Lisa Takach.
“I’m really honored that on my first meeting, we are recognizing Native American Heritage Day,” said Harless, who has Native ancestry.
Council members said declaring a holiday is not sufficient for the city’s growth and development, and they should emphasize why they are making motions to promote diversity in Vancouver.
Stober also said staff should consider codifying Indigenous Peoples Day, which is commemorated on Oct. 10. Additionally, he recommended that the council should incorporate a land acknowledgement in its meetings, or a formal statement saying an event is occurring on land belonging to Indigenous people. Perez suggested the council should work toward finding ways to extend beyond diversity, equity and inclusion training to cast a wider net in the community.
Jasmine Tolbert, Vancouver NAACP president, said having these holidays will allow for people to dig deeper into the significance of the holidays. It’s equally as important for the city to invest time and money to ensure the community and city staff understand why they recognize these holidays and get the days off, she said.
Sam Robinson, vice chairman of the Chinook Indian Nation, said the codification of Native American Heritage Day addresses the history of Indigenous people in the area. This ordinance will help explain who the Chinook are and bring awareness to ancestors who took care of the Earth, he said.
Speakers at the public hearing said the council’s motion makes people feel included and safer in Vancouver. It also promotes the stories of historically oppressed populations and their perseverance facing injustices. Those who spoke also pointed to how Perez’s and Harless’ position in the council is powerful in the steps moving forward to accurately representing Vancouver.