Cape Elizabeth town offices have temporary signs that read Cape Rejects Racism. Catherine Bart/Sentry

CAPE ELIZABETH — On June 22, the town council made several decisions in an effort to confront racism and diversity issues in Cape Elizabeth, including a new committee, anti-racism signage, and changes to an existing resolution.

The town council is expected to vote on a new committee that would address racism and equity in Cape Elizabeth during its next meeting on July 13.

The appointment committee met on June 29 to discuss the charge and duties for the proposed committee, Town Manager Matthew Sturgis said in an email.

A draft for the proposed committee, the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Anti-racism, and Awareness Committee outlines a seven-person ad-hoc committee that will “review policies that contribute to systemic racism, make recommendations for policies to promote greater equity and inclusion, draft procedures and provide training that promote diversity, review the Comprehensive Plan to support diversity in housing and transportation.”

The proposal for the committee recommends appointing five members of the public, a school board member, one town councilor and two student representatives.

Cape Elizabeth got involved in its efforts to take action racism when the council voted to approve changes to the resolution Welcoming All People in Our Community that had been adopted in June of 2017.

Councilors agreed to add a resolution that states the town will commit to combating racism in a unanimous vote during the June 22 meeting. Part of that action includes forming a committee to address racial equity, diversity and racism.

Valerie Adams, council chair, started the discussion with an apology for waiting so long to take action with regards to racism in the community.

“We are here addressing racial injustice, and in reflecting on this and in preparing for tonight’s meeting, it dawned on me that we are behind the ball on this,” she said. “And so I want to apologize on behalf of myself as the council chair and all of the leaders who have waited for this moment to take action when this is something we should have addressed long ago.”

The town council has also voted on June 22 to authorize Sturgis to place signage that states, Cape Rejects Racism in front of town offices for the next eight weeks.

During the appointment committee’s June 29 meeting, members of the public voiced support and the majority were in favor of a committee that would work on diversity and racism in the community.

Residents Thomas Esch and Melanie Thomas both said that Cape Elizabeth could set an example in how it addresses diversity and accountability to local people of color.

Changes to issues like affordable housing and a general lack of diversity should be addressed, Thomas said, adding that she is a person of color.

“We do have to have a focus on race relations,” Esch said. “We have an opportunity to set an example for our entire area. This is something that can make Cape proud and make us elite.”

Another resident, Valerie Levanos, said that she wants to see a diverse viewpoint on the committee.

Diversity is a concern for many town departments and organizations in Cape Elizabeth, including the police department, Chief Paul Fenton said.

He said that the police department is possibly the most diverse department in town, with three of its 14 staff members being people of color.

“In terms of diversity we have several among our ranks, but we can always add more,” he said. “We don’t have any openings, but we’re always looking for the most qualified. Another issue we have is the question of if anyone will apply, especially those of color. Those are challenges communities throughout the whole country are facing.”

Fenton is open to being involved in the proposed committee, should it be approved, he said, whether he is on the committee or not.

“I’m interested in the committee and finding out the scope of what they’re doing,” he said.

Cities and communities throughout the United States, including Cape Elizabeth, have held protests against excessive police force and racism within police departments.

People chant as they protest for racial justice on Wednesday evening in Cape Elizabeth. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

On June 10, about 250 teenagers and young adults protested at Cape Elizabeth High School, marching to the police station, in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

This peaceful rally encouraged Fenton, he said, after listening to speakers, who reinforced him that the Cape Elizabeth Police Department is “doing the right thing” when serving its community.

Fenton said that none of his officers, have had complaints or charges of excessive use of force filed against them.

“I was comforted in listening to the peace rally and protests,” he said.

On June 9, Sturgis and Fenton hosted a Zoom discussion where the town could answer the public’s questions and comments on racial bias.

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