Laura Ligouri, executive director of Mindbridge, bottom right, and Fatuma Hussein, executive director of the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine, bottom, present a joint Lewiston-Auburn equity statement to the Lewiston City Council on Tuesday.

LEWISTON — City officials in Lewiston and Auburn appeared largely supportive this week of a joint equity statement drafted by City Spirit L/A, a group of city, school and community leaders that formed to address conflict and inequity in the Twin Cities.

During separate workshop sessions Monday and Tuesday, both city councils got a first look at the statement, which has been in development since June.

The statement is seen as a way to guide the future work of the council and could inform potential policy decisions in both cities.

Its development was led by Portland human rights nonprofit Mindbridge, which helps municipalities implement equity plans and conducts trainings on implicit bias, among other services.

Laura Ligouri, its executive director, told Auburn officials Monday that an equity statement is difficult to craft, but serves as “a north star for future work.”

She said the statement is designed to represent the Twin Cities’ collective values, “committing the cities to the healing of inequality and discrimination.”

Ligouri said the process took place from June 2020 until now, and included workshops and focus groups. The statement saw six drafts, then went to the public for feedback in November.

“Creating a statement is something that’s easier said than done,” she said. “We hope that this is accepted by the (City) Council.”

Also presenting to both councils was Fatuma Hussein, executive director of the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine.

Hussein, an Auburn resident, told Auburn officials that she’s proud of the work, and that the statement can signal that Auburn “embraces all people,” and “ensures that people thrive.”

On Tuesday, she told the Lewiston council that “it took a lot of energy, effort and visioning over the last two years to get us here. It came together at the right time for our community.”

The Spirit council was first formed in 2018 through a U.S. Department of Justice grant aimed at addressing conflicts that arise from race or religion, following the death of Donald Giusti in Kennedy Park and the resignation of former Mayor Shane Bouchard after a racist text message was revealed.

The acronym “SPIRIT” stands for “site problem identification and resolution of issues together.”

The council first initiated the “Peace in the Park” de-escalation program in Kennedy Park. It then held an all-day conference with city government and elected officials, law enforcement, the faith community, and nonprofit and youth organizations, which identified a number of top issues for the council to address.

City Spirit L/A was also looked to by Lewiston officials as an outlet to continue citywide conversations on equity, after Mayor Mark Cayer’s ad hoc committee on equity and diversity handed over a set of recommendations to the City Council.

Hussein said Tuesday that the idea of crafting an equity statement caused the Spirit council to “pull back” from its initial trajectory, and that focusing on a statement that an entire community can embrace has “reenergized” the council.

The council hired Mindbridge using a grant from the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation.

Lewiston City Councilor Luke Jensen said the statement is “forward-thinking” and can be part of a new identity for the city.

Councilor Alicia Rea, while supportive, said she’s heard from constituents that would like to see some unique language included for each city. Currently, the statement is the same for both Lewiston and Auburn.

Auburn Police Chief Jason Moen, also a member of the Spirit council, said Monday that “a lot of hard work has gone into this.”

“It’s been rewarding to listen to the various demographics the city has, and the struggles they’ve endured during their time here,” he said. “It’s exciting because it’s a new era in our city.”

Councilor Katie Boss called it “a beautifully-crafted statement,” and represents “what we need as a community as a foundation for all the work we do.”

It’s unclear how elected officials in Lewiston and Auburn will formally show their support for the statement.

Lewiston City Administrator Denis D’Auteuil said based on the council’s reaction Tuesday, the statement will likely appear on the March 16 council meeting for adoption.

Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque said Monday that he believes the council needs to set aside time to discuss it further. He said he’d like to look at “some concrete examples that informed some of this equity statement,” and pointed out that there are only two elected officials on the Spirit council: Mayor Cayer in Lewiston and Auburn Councilor Holly Lasagna.

The council also includes several city staff and both police chiefs.

“I think we deserve some time as a council to look at this,” he said.

Hussein said Tuesday that both cities “will have two different paths in implementing the equity statement,” but said the work doesn’t stop there.

“You can’t just have a piece of paper that says equity on it, and then not invest in it,” she said.

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