AUBURN — The City Council directed city administration to implement a citywide equity policy Tuesday, but stopped short of formally accepting a related equity statement created by the local coalition City Spirit L/A.

According to City Manager Phil Crowell, who served on City Spirit L/A, the Auburn policy is meant as an “overarching management tool” for the city, to be used as a “lens” in making future policy decisions.

The original council order would have formally accepted the equity statement while at the same time directing Crowell to implement the city policy, however, prior to the council vote, Councilor Brian Carrier offered an amendment.

Instead of language that said Auburn would “use the accepted equity statement” from City Spirit to implement a citywide policy, the amended language directs the city manager to implement a city-wide policy on equity and inclusion, “utilizing” the work done by City Spirit.

Carrier said the original language “limited” the city to only using the statement provided by City Spirit, but Councilor Holly Lasagna, who ultimately voted against the amended language, argued the change “complicates the issue and negates the work that was done by City Spirit.”

She said it was “unfortunate and disrespectful” that Auburn officials were not accepting the statement from the coalition after months of work.

Earlier in the meeting, Fatuma Hussein, executive director of the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine and a member of City Spirit L/A, urged the council to accept the equity statement and use the policy created by Crowell to “be the vehicle to drive the statement in the city of Auburn.”

“It’s been a very long road, but the real work starts now,” she said.

Crowell said the the policy will be used both internally for staff and externally for city committees and other work, with plans for the policy to be turned into visuals in places like the Auburn Hall community room.

“This is a good thing for our community,” he said. “Auburn has consistently done many of these things. It’s taking things we’ve been doing, and things we should be doing, and putting it on paper.”

After the council amended the original language, Crowell said he created the policy by using the City Spirit equity statement, Auburn’s strategic plan and the Equity and Inclusion Tool Kit made available for municipalities by the International Association of City/County Managers.

Among the equity goals listed on the draft policy are “have a workforce broadly reflective of the community;” “identify and address barriers within organizational systems;” “attract and retain a talented workforce skilled at working in an inclusive and respectful manner with one another and with the community;” and “create processes, policies, programs and services that meet the diverse needs of those we serve.”

When Councilor Stephen Milks questioned how the policy would interact with existing laws that oversee hiring and wages, Crowell said following the law doesn’t change.

But, he said, it’s meant as a way for city officials to consider barriers residents may have.

“It’s taking that and saying we’re going to do better than what the law says,” he said. “We should be taking into consideration what those barriers might be for certain members of the community. This is one statement from two years worth of work. We’re taking that statement and looking at how we put that into action.”

The council ultimately approved the language 6-1. Carrier’s amendment passed 4-3, with councilors Lasagna, Tim MacLeod and Katie Boss voting against.

Councilor Belinda Gerry said she believed the amendment made the language “stronger.”

“It doesn’t just identify with one group,” she said.

The vote Tuesday came two weeks after officials in Lewiston adopted the equity statement created by City Spirit L/A.

Later in the meeting, Crowell thanked Hussein and City Spirit, stating, “Their work and their effort is why we have an equity policy in the city.”

The City Spirit council is a group of city, school and community leaders that formed to address conflict and inequity in the Twin Cities. The process to develop the equity statement began in June 2020, and included workshops and focus groups. The statement saw six drafts, then went to the public for feedback in November.

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