October 30, 2020

Old Lyme Selectmen Discuss Resolution on Racism Presented by Nosal; Griswold, Kerr Express Reservations

Old Lyme Selectwoman Mary Jo Nosal (File photo)

OLD LYME — At the Sept. 8 Old Lyme Board of Selectmen’s regular meeting, Selectwoman Mary Jo Nosal again raised the question of whether the board would be willing to sign a Resolution on racism, which she noted several other towns in Connecticut have already done.

She had originally introduced the idea with a draft Resolution at the Aug. 8 meeting but it was not discussed further in the Aug. 17 meeting.

Nosal summarized the draft Resolution, which is printed in full below and originated from the Town of Windsor, Conn., noting, “There’s a lot of community support to do something,” and reminding her fellow board members that, “Our nation is talking about this.”

She also emphasized that the discussion was “only a first step,” and that some comments on the wording of the Resolution had already been received.

Nosal also mentioned that when she had first introduced the Resolution, Old Lyme First Selectman Timothy Griswold had expressed a concern about the tone of the document. Selectman Christopher Kerr echoed that opinion when he gave his comments on the Resolution, saying, “I somewhat agree with Tim … it seems like your saying the town is racist.”

Nosal responded immediately, “Where do you see that?” Kerr answered, “It has that tone,” adding, “Maybe there are ways to tone it down.”  Nosal asked Kerr what he would suggest to which he responded, “I don’t know,” saying he would have to read the Resolution again along with a new draft from a different source that Nosal had brought, and see if he could perhaps amend them together.

When his turn came to comment, Griswold said, “It seems to me we’re a small town. I think we have a very good record in our town,” adding he had “trouble” with use of the expression, “Racism is a public health crisis affecting our town and all of Connecticut.”

He stated, “I just don’t see the link like that unless it’s very indirect,” summarizing his opinion as, “I just hesitate to have the board sign onto this … it’s very negative about our country.”

Expanding on his view, Griswold continued with the question, “Can we all do better?” to which he responded firmly, “Yes,” noting, “We all want to endorse the idea of harmony,” while acknowledging, “There are instances where there are terrible situations.”

He concluded, “It seems this is more than we need to do … It’s hard for me to accept this.”

Nosal took a conciliatory tone after Griswold and Kerr had commented, saying, “I think it’s unusual for a board of selectmen in Old Lyme to deal with this. I’m proud of us that we’re facing the fact that it makes us uncomfortable. It’s not an easy subject for any of us to talk about.”

She remarked, “Once we start talking about it and addressing it, it will become better … our society will be better.” She urged the board to keep discussing the subject because, “Our objective is to look at what we can do to make our community healthier.”

Next steps were not agreed specifically but seemed likely to include further review of the wording of the Resolution.

Nosal concluded positively, “I appreciate the board looking at it and considering it … and acknowledge it makes us uncomfortable.”

The following is the DRAFT Resolution that Nosal presented for discussion:

WHEREAS, racism is a social system with multiple dimensions: individual racism that is interpersonal and/or internalized or systemic racism that is institutional or structural, and is a system of structuring opportunity and assigning value based on the social interpretation of how one looks;

WHEREAS race is a social construct with no biological basis; 

WHEREAS racism unfairly disadvantages specific individuals and communities, while unfairly giving advantages to other individuals and communities, and saps the strength of the whole society through the waste of human resources; 

WHEREAS racism is a root cause of poverty and constricts economic mobility; 

WHEREAS racism causes persistent discrimination and disparate outcomes in many areas of life, including housing, education, employment, and criminal justice, and is itself a social determinant of health; 

WHEREAS racism and segregation have exacerbated a health divide resulting in people of color in Connecticut bearing a disproportionate burden of illness and mortality including COVID-19 infection and death, heart disease, diabetes, and infant mortality; 

WHEREAS Black, Native American, Asian and Latino residents are more likely to experience poor health outcomes as a consequence of inequities in economic stability, education, physical environment, food, and access to health care and these inequities are, themselves, a result of racism; 

WHEREAS more than 100 studies have linked racism to worse health outcomes; and 

WHEREAS the collective prosperity and wellbeing of TOWN depends upon equitable access to opportunity for every resident regardless of the color of their skin: 

Now, therefore, be it Resolved, that the TOWN Board of Selectmen

(1) Assert that racism is a public health crisis affecting our town and all of Connecticut; 

(2) Work to progress as an equity and justice-oriented organization, by continuing to identify specific activities to enhance diversity and to ensure antiracism principles across our leadership, staffing and contracting;

(3) Promote equity through all policies approved by the Board of Selectmen and enhance educational efforts aimed at understanding, addressing and dismantling racism and how it affects the delivery of human and social services, economic development and public safety;

(4) Improve the quality of the data our town collects and the analysis of that data—it is not enough to assume that an initiative is producing its intended outcome, qualitative and quantitative data should be used to assess inequities in impact and continuously improve;

(5) Continue to advocate locally for relevant policies that improve health in communities of color, and support local, state, regional, and federal initiatives that advance efforts to dismantle systemic racism;

(6) Further work to solidify alliances and partnerships with other organizations that are confronting racism and encourage other local, state, regional, and national entities to recognize racism as a public health crisis;

(7) Support community efforts to amplify issues of racism and engage actively and authentically with communities of color wherever they live; and

(8) Identify clear goals and objectives, including periodic reports to the Board of Selectmen, to assess progress and capitalize on opportunities to further advance racial equity.

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. It would be helpful if the Selectwoman could provide some examples of Old Lyme residents who have experienced the public health crisis caused by racism. I imagine there must be many instances which caused severe illness or death. A few examples would help get people on board with this initiative.

    • Thomas Gotowka says

      Dear Old: I realize that you are looking for actual incidents in Old Lyme, but, absent those from me, I’ll share the broader State – level issues that were recently reviewed by Jenna Carlesso in the CT Mirror, who also highlighted the CT Health Foundation study that demonstrated “links between discrimination and negative physical and mental health consequences”.
      The pandemic has also brought some health and healthcare inequities into greater view. “Black residents here are two and a half times more likely to die from a coronavirus infection than whites. The death rate for Hispanics is 67 percent higher than for white residents.”
      People of color are also more likely to have higher rates of pre-existing health conditions like diabetes and asthma, which predisposes one to graver health outcomes.
      During the pandemic, residents in low income, predominantly minority neighborhoods have faced barriers to testing and other health services. Until May, two-thirds of the state’s testing sites required a physician’s prescription, and many living in those communities have no insurance or PCP to make the referral.
      So, and to all: wear a mask, observe social distancing recommendations, and avoid dense inside gatherings.

  2. Thomas Gotowka says

    I am very pleased that our Board of Selectmen (and women) have initiated discussion on recognizing a “Resolution on Racism”, as has already been done by some other CT towns. I appreciate that defining and stating one’s values can be an uncomfortable endeavor, especially when acting broadly as elected representatives of Old Lyme.
    Such principles and tenets are usually internalized and may have been encoded via personal experiences, religious beliefs, education & profession; and military service. They comprise each of us.
    Although uncomfortable and sometimes difficult, I don’t feel that the BOS should be let off the hook. Perhaps further address these issues after November third, when campaign rhetoric and promises finally move into the background. I would like to see a Values Statement from the Board.

  3. Paula Sadlon says

    Some of the recitals in the resolution are debatable and in truth beyond the expertise of the BOS. No insult intended. Do they refer to the Town of Old Lyme solely, other towns, our State or Nation?

    Dated demographic information of the town is as follows: Wikipedia for 2010

    The racial makeup of the town was 97.37% White, 0.26% African American, 0.28% Native American, 1.16% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.32% from other races, and 0.59% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.95% of the population.

    Could surveys be used to understand personal experiences?

    A statement on racism would only be self-serving and not helpful at achieving goals.

    What are the goals? Disparate treatment of Old Lyme residents should be easily determinable.

    I will state explicitly what most will not. Many people believe that unless a community is racially balanced, that community is racist. There can be many reasons for this. Access to employment and public transportation, availability of discount shopping, medical care and proximity to other family members are some. These factors would apply to any lower income family.

    The issues are complex and not resolvable by a self-serving resolution.

  4. I applaud any effort our community would undertake to make sure that our collective humanity addresses this important issue. Civil discourse and courage between individuals and within any community is the only way to solve any problem.

    Old Lyme should lead by example.

  5. Douglas E Wilkinson says

    Way to go MJ. It is past time to recognize that racism is pervasive in our society an needs to be addressed.

  6. Emily Fisher says

    I am uncomfortable with comments from people who are not identified, in this thread “Oldlymer.” Lymeline should certainly reserve the right to protect a writer for good reason, but otherwise, I hope you will consider a different policy. In our current political environment, even locally, it would encourage thoughtful debate if individuals presented their point of view under their own names. Thank you for considering this.

  7. Elizabeth Rubitski says

    Thank you Selectwoman Nosal for initiating this discussion. Acknowledging the public health issue that exists on a state and national level by showing our support is important to me as a lifelong resident of Old Lyme. I look forward to hearing our Selectmen’s suggestions at the next meeting.

  8. Why didn’t Mary Jo bring this up when Bonnie was first selectwoman ?

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