At the Talbot County Council’s June 23rd meeting, President Cory Pack introduced a resolution to draft a diversity statement that he hoped would be adopted by the council and added to the county’s employee handbook. Council member Laura Price was the only member to offer a statement in opposition. “We have a lot of other problems here,” she said, “I don’t think this is one of them… I don’t think we need to create a problem that doesn’t exist in Talbot County.”
At the same meeting, Council member Frank Divilio, in his support for the resolution, offered an amendment that would include county board, commission, and committee members along with county employees. Although his amendment to the resolution was approved, the full resolution, after discussion, was rejected. Afterwards, President Pack said he was “dumbfounded” that the council did not support the addition of such a statement to the county employee handbook.
A month later, the council had a change of heart. It revisited the issue and voted unanimously in favor of developing the diversity statement and, at their September 22nd meeting, adopted one that had been drafted by County Human Resources Director Kim Ferullo. Council members called the action “historic” and a “turning point” for the county. Council Member Laura Price also offered praise, saying Ferullo “nailed it” with her effort.
The statement reads, in part: “The foundation of our diversity, equity and inclusion philosophies are to clearly articulate to both our employees and the general public our intention to create a work culture that embraces our ability to hire, retain, develop, manage and promote a diverse and engaged workforce…Talbot County expects employees to treat others with dignity and respect at all times. All employees are expected to exhibit conduct that reflects inclusion during work, at work functions – on or off the work site – and all county-sponsored events.”
Council President Pack congratulated the council on passing the resolution but warned after the vote that the hard part is to come. “Now comes the tough part of whether we can live up to what you’ve drafted for us,” Pack said to Ferullo. “You’ve done your part, now this council, and councils to come, will have to do their part to live up to it.”
As it turned out, we didn’t have long to wait. Only a month later, at their October 27 meeting, three council members – Frank Divilio, Chuck Callahan and Laura Price – would find themselves in conflict with the diversity and inclusion statement that they had supported and praised only a month earlier. After Assistant County Manager Jessica Morris read a letter to the council from the President of the Talbot County Chapter of the NAACP, Richard Potter, they conveniently forgot their commitment. In the letter, Potter requested that he, along with four other community leaders, be granted a meeting with the council to discuss the removal of the “Talbot Boys” monument, the last Confederate monument still remaining on public land in Maryland. Divilio, who voted twice against the removal of the statue, took issue with the meeting request, saying it was unclear in Potter’s letter who would be coming to the meeting with the NAACP leader, despite the fact that he had been provided with their names. “We don’t know where this is, how big, or what time,” Divilio said. “We haven’t coordinated with anybody else…I do not like this.” He, Callahan and Price refused in the end to meet with any group at any time that included Richard Potter.
To me, their refusal to respect a local Black leader’s legitimate request to meet with them does not follow their own guidelines as outlined in their diversity statement, wherein they pledged “to treat others with dignity and respect at all times.” Their actions clearly illustrate President Pack’s earlier concern that the hard part is “to live up to it.”
Council members need not only to live up to the words they promised to adhere to, but need to remind themselves that an important part of their job is listening to their constituents. Anyone who runs for public office should realize that there are times when difficult and sensitive issues arise, and that ignoring those who want to voice their concerns is both irresponsible and cowardly. It is the hard decisions that we, as citizens, expect our leaders to confront with dignity, reason and compassion. Simply put, they need to remember the diversity statement they just approved and “to live up to it.”