CAPE ELIZABETH — The Cape Elizabeth Town Council made several diversity-related decisions June 22, including ordering a temporary sign be erected to display an anti-racism message, a move that a member of a local activist group called “a good first start.”

But critics said the measures are long overdue.

The council voted unanimously to approve the sign following a workshop where several other options were discussed, including a current resolution against racism, and forming a new town advisory committee focused on diversity. The discussions mirrored what other area communities have done in the wake of nationwide outrage following the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by white police officers in Minneapolis.

The sign, to be placed in front of the town offices for at least eight weeks, will read, “Cape rejects racism.” Town Manager Matthew Sturgis said on Wednesday that he is placing the order for the sign this week.

“As soon as we receive it, we’ll put it up,” he said.

But some critics, both on Monday and prior to the meeting, told town officials, both publicly and privately, that it has taken too long for them to act. Council Chairwoman Valerie Adams addressed the criticism by leading off Monday’s meeting with an apology.

“It dawned on me that we are behind the ball on this,” she said. “We are not proud of this lapse. I’m not proud of this lapse in leadership.”

Resident Shukria Wiar argued the town should have acted sooner to show solidarity with anti-racism movements. Other communities, such as Portland, acted quickly to put up signs decrying hate weeks ago, she said.

“I feel like things are done a little slower in Cape Elizabeth,” she said.

“We live in a racist system, a racist county, and a racist community,” said resident Maureen Clancy, who called for town officials to do more than just put up a sign to prove their commitment to diversity and equality.

“We have to find ways to address this locally,” she said.

Councilors also voted unanimously to update the language of a 2017 resolution against racism and to instruct the appointments committee to create a new citizens advisory committee to inform town and possibly school department officials on diversity-related issues.

Councilor Valerie Deveraux supported erecting the sign, for example, but worried about opening the door to anyone to seek permission to erect signs with different, possibly unwelcome messages.

“It could be a neo-Nazi group, it could be anybody,” she said.

Councilor Christopher Straw also voiced concerns about the government taking too vocal a stance.

“I’m always loathe to have the government speak on issues, even if it’s something I completely agree with,” he said.

Following the meeting, Melanie Thomas, a Cape Elizabeth resident and member of the Cape Diversity Coalition, said the town “has failed people of color,” but also saw the council’s decisions as a sign of hope.

“I see progress,” she said. “I see a town council that’s trying to learn things and figure it out for themselves, and that goes for all of us.”

Thomas pointed to other evidence of progress. The coalition, she said, has a membership of 229 local residents “and growing,” and pointed out that about 100 of those members-only joined within recent weeks, which she took as a very good sign.

“People want to be heavily involved in educating and learning,” she said.

Sean Murphy 780-9094

Email: [email protected]

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