SOUTH PORTLAND — The city’s Board of Health and Human Rights Commission are calling for a full review of municipal laws, policies and practices to root out systemic racism wherever it may exist.

The two panels together drafted a proposed resolution that would declare racism a public health crisis and compel the City Council to hire an outside consultant to examine the city charter, ordinances and personnel policies and recommend steps to address systemic racism.

Leaders of both panels will present their proposal during a council workshop Tuesday night. They already have received feedback from city staff and legal counsel and are seeking guidance and support from the council before submitting a final draft for its approval.

The proposed resolution is part of a national movement targeting historic and contemporary racism as the source of systems that, as the resolution states, “implicitly and explicitly impact the physical, psycho-social and economic wellbeing of Black, Indigenous and Persons of Color.”

These longstanding systems of racial and socioeconomic inequity “impact education, housing, economic opportunity, health care, criminal justice and other determinants of health,” the resolution states. They also “cause documented disparities in educational outcomes, economic achievement, social status and health among non-White populations.”

By declaring racism a public health crisis, South Portland has an opportunity to better the health and wellbeing of the whole community, including other groups that experience discrimination, said Rebecca Boulos, health board chair.


“Any improvements we make for a small, vulnerable segment of our community ultimately make things better for everyone,” said Pedro Vazquez, Human Rights Commission chair. “With this resolution, we can provide some level of awareness (of systemic racism) and we can take strategic action. We want this to be a community effort.”

Hiring a consultant to review and recommend action on city laws, policies and practices would cost at least $50,000, City Manager Scott Morelli said in a memo to the council.

The current council cannot compel future councils to make any expenditures, Morelli said, but approving the resolution would signal general support for its initiatives.

More than 240 state, county and local governments have issued similar declarations identifying systemic racism as a public health crisis that must be addressed with strategic action and government resources, according to the American Public Health Association.

In neighboring Portland, Mayor Kate Snyder and the City Council issued a proclamation condemning racism in June 2020 and appointed a Racial Equity Steering Committee, which has recommended wide-ranging changes in areas such as policing, mental health, housing and employment.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh declared racism a public health crisis, reallocated $3 million from the city’s $414 million police budget to address the issue and created a COVID-19 Health Inequities Task Force. In Louisville, Kentucky, Mayor Greg Fischer signed a similar executive order that outlined seven aspects of racial inequity to be addressed by city government, including public safety, employment, housing, neighborhood investment, health and voting.

The proposed resolution in South Portland notes that the city formed the first municipal Human Rights Commission in Maine in 2020, after Black Lives Matter protests erupted across Maine and the nation following the death of George Floyd.

It also refers to an April 2021 report, based on focus groups held in March 2020, that brought to light concerns of parents, staff and students in South Portland schools about racist comments by teachers, inequitable treatment of students and a lack of belonging felt by students of color.

The resolution also calls on the city to conduct a Community Health Needs Assessment that would encompass systemic racism; to inform residents about the city’s history related to slavery and tribal communities; to include Indigenous voices on municipal boards; and to direct municipal boards to address systemic racism.

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