Lynnwood City Council considers next steps for troubled Diversity Commission

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Supporters of xxx make their feelings known at Monday's Lynnwood City Council meeting.
Audience members hold a “We Support Rosamaria” banner as they stand during Monday’s Lynnwood City Council work meeting Monday night.

As supporters of Diversity Commissioner Rosamaria Graziani looked on, the Lynnwood City Council during its Monday night work session discussed next steps for the beleagured commission.

Lynnwood Assistant City Administrator Art Ceniza told the council that City Attorney Rosemary Larson is currently reviewing a letter that Lynnwood Mayor Nicola Smith received late Friday afternoon from Diversity Commission Chair Glenda Powell-Freeman. The letter recommended removing Graziani from the commission, said Ceniza, who serves as the mayor’s office liaison to the Diversity Commission.

The letter was sent three days after the commission’s March 15 meeting, during which Powell-Freeman asked Graziani to resign from the commission. Graziani responded that she was not willing to resign, so Powell-Freeman during that meeting read a letter asking the mayor “to consider removing Graziani from the commission immediately.”

The letter said Graziani “chose to lead the the commission on a collision course with the mayor’s office, the Lynnwood City Council and other city offices,” such that the commission’s focus and effectiveness has been “greatly damaged.”

Mayor Smith told the council that she was meeting Tuesday with Powell-Freeman to further discuss the matter. And on Wednesday, the mayor and Ceniza will be meeting with the city attorney to determine the process for the council to follow in response to Powell-Freeman’s letter. The mayor also said she planned to meet with Graziani Thursday afternoon.

“The diversity commission is a really, really important commission,” Smith told the council Tuesday night. “I want it to be a meaningful experience, I want it to be functioning, I want it to get the full support and organizational structure as an advisory board that serves you well, and myself.”

Council President M. Christopher Boyer cautioned fellow council members “not to speculate” during Monday night’s meeting about the Diversity Commission controversy.

“We need to remember that what we are dealing with here is, in part, the reputation of a Lynnwood citizen,” Boyer said. ” What we don’t want to do is dishonor any of our volunteers by having a conversation on subjects we have not been fully briefed on.”

One by one, all council members expressed support for the commission’s work and their hope that a resolution to the current situation could be found.

Councilman Ian Cotton, who served as the council liaison to the Diversity Commission last year, suggested that it would be helpful if the city provided commissioners with “some good solid legislative training,” including instruction on the use of Robert’s Rules and how to run a meeting.

“I think it’s ironic that here we are today with basically a Diversity Commission, I think, in crisis,” said Councilman George Hurst. “We have commissioners resigning, we have commissioners being asked to resign. I wish we could all get along. I think it’s a sad commentary.

“We need to rebuild this commission,” Hurst added. “I would recommend that we keep this commission and keep it thriving again.”

If Graziani is removed, it would leave the seven-member commission with just two members — Chair Powell-Freeman and member Angel Shimelish. The commission had the required seven members in 2015, but four vacancies opened up due to former Commissioner Shirley Sutton’s election to the council in January, a formal resignation by Commissioner Rabbi Berel Paltiel (issued last month), and the expirations of Commissioner Pining Reyes and Ty Tufono’s terms last December.

Reyes is seeking reappointment while Tufono so far is not.

(Mayor Smith noted during the meeting that the city has received five applications for the commission, but four are not Lynnwood residents.)

Councilman Benjamin Goodwin reminded fellow council members that the issue “is about the Diversity Commission itself,” adding that “one person does not a commission make.”

“We need to understand it’s the group in general that we need to be able to help and lead and guide with love and caring and allow them to make mistakes, correct those mistakes and move on as a commission to help the diversity in this city,” Goodwin said.

In Commissioner Rabbi Paltiel’s resignation letter, he gave two reasons for stepping down: the “hostile environment at recent meetings” and a belief that the commission’s role needed to be “narrowed down” and “more specifically defined” in order for the group to be effective.

Councilwoman Shirley Sutton commented that it was “very sad that someone who has been contributing since he’s been serving on the commission in a positive way to feel that we created a hostile environment.” The mayor agreed, adding that she had spoken with Paltiel and was hopeful he might consider returning to the commission at a later date.

Councilwoman Shannon Sessions addressed those who had come to the meeting to support Graziani, noting that while she had received phone calls from Graziani’s supporters, she had also been contacted by those who do not support the commissioner.

Councilwoman Ruth Ross noted that the Diversity Commission’s mission, as described in the City of Lynnwood’s 10-year Strategic Plan, “is to foster an environment of mutual respect and understanding for all people in Lynnwood.”

“That’s pretty clear,” Ross continued. “And if the commission can’t do that, even amongst themselves, then there is a problem. But that is the mission of this group and we have to find a way to have a full commission that can work toward that goal.”

The full council is expected to take up the Diversity Commission issue again with possible action during its regular meeting Monday, March 28.

— Story and photo by Teresa Wippel

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