LEWISTON — The City Council will vote next week on a slate of recommendations from the Equity and Diversity Committee, which calls for a new human resources position that would be tasked with developing a workforce representative of the demographics of the city.

During a council workshop session Tuesday, officials lauded the work of the committee as an important stepping stone for Lewiston.

Ayesha Hall, co-chairperson of the committee, said the recommendations are important, but the committee’s work engaging in difficult discussions can also serve as a model to the community. Many said the work was long overdue, but were heartened with the end result.

“It was bumpy, but we stuck it out,” Hall said, referring to the committee’s process. “That follow-though, that is the biggest recommendation.”

Mayor Mark Cayer created the ad hoc committee as part of a City Council resolution on policing that came on the heels of local and nationwide protests over the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Cayer told the Sun Journal last month that while “critical national issues” brought the discussion to the forefront, the committee’s focus was inward, on making Lewiston “a welcoming community for everyone.”

The recommendations, formally introduced to the council Tuesday, also call for increased community engagement and community policing efforts, and improved services for vulnerable populations.

The committee said the Police Department should increase community engagement efforts by facilitating “a series of informal community conversations on police interaction with Black, indigenous, and people of color communities focusing on topics related to bias, race/racism and community policing,” and other initiatives.

The recommendations urge law enforcement to better understand vulnerable populations, and lean more on mental health and substance misuse support.

Cayer said Tuesday that the work of the committee “was never an attack on the good men and women of the Police Department,” but rather an expectation that the department “look inward.”

Police Chief Brian O’Malley regularly attended committee meetings, and several members Tuesday commended his involvement and willingness to support the discussions. O’Malley has previously said he supports the proposed human resources position and several other committee recommendations.

He is also behind plans to continue what’s known as the City SPIRIT initiative in the Twin Cities, an effort that began in early 2019 following the death of Donald Giusti in Kennedy Park.

“I welcome the opportunity, the more chances of dialogue is better for the city,” he said.

According to the final recommendations, the human resources position would be tasked with “developing a city workforce representative of the demographics of the city; advancing equitable policies, training, practices and procedures; and ensuring that the city delivers services in an equitable and inclusive manner.”

The person in that position would also be asked to produce an annual report on diversity in the city’s workforce, including information on staff promotions and diversity of management or supervisory positions.

Cayer said the position is “not going to dictate what department heads do,” but will keep tabs on the operations of city, and build “a workforce representative of the city.”

Other committee members, including City Councilor Safiya Khalid, said the committee had a “bumpy start,” but was able to find “solid ground.”

“People from different angles came together,” committee member Hawo Abdille said. “We put the effort in and were able to compromise on recommendations. I’m glad this work is coming forth, it’s long overdue.”

Councilor Luke Jensen, who also served on the committee, said the committee work was “just the right thing to do,” and that it signals to those outside Lewiston, “This is our corner of woods and we’re trying to improve things here.”

City Administrator Denis D’Auteuil said the council will vote Feb. 2 to adopt the recommendations, but said any funding needed for recommendations will go through the budget process this spring.

D’Auteuil did not give the council an estimated cost for the position or training included in the recommendations.

The 12-member committee unanimously adopted the recommendations in December, capping several months of work that began with the committee’s formation in July.

After Cayer’s initial rollout of the committee, the city’s police patrol union issued a statement taking issue with the committee’s makeup. Two members of law enforcement who are Lewiston residents, including a former Lewiston police officer, served on the committee.

The council approved funding for police body cameras in October after the patrol union pressured the city to speed up its original timeline for acquiring them.

Cayer has said the committee is a “balanced and diverse group,” and that he was challenged by the conversations. He  said Tuesday that it provided an opportunity for “tremendous growth.”

Those involved in the committee expect the work to continue beyond the adoption of recommendations.

“We did a stretch of hard work, but that doesn’t mean it’s all over,” Hall said.

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