By SCOTT JACKSON
City councillors on Tuesday approved creating a new Department of Social Justice and Equity after more than 30 residents voiced their support for doing so at a public hearing.
The measure will now go to Mayor Thomas Koch for approval. Koch would also be responsible for setting a salary for the department’s lone employee, a director, and appointing that individual to the position. The new director would be tasked to, “create equity and inclusion among all populations in Quincy.”
A spokesman for the mayor did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday morning.
Councillors Nina Liang, Brian Palmucci and Noel DiBona first introduced an ordinance creating the new department in November. Liang and Palmucci – along with Councillors Brad Croall and Anne Mahoney – had hosted a series of community meetings last summer to discuss inequality and injustice with residents, and the proposed department was partially inspired by those meetings.
Palmucci said, “Quincy has always been and must always be a city with open arms and a loving heart,” that has welcomed generations of immigrants from the around the world.
“This legislation does nothing more than codify that principle and put someone in charge of ensuring that we carry those ideals forward for the next 100 years,” he said.
Palmucci said while Quincy isn’t facing the problems some communities are facing, such as rampant police brutality, the proposed department “is about acknowledging we can do better.” He pointed out that flyers supporting white supremacist propaganda were recently left at some mailboxes in the city.
“We can create a department tasked with helping those harmed by such things, like the little girl who opens her mailbox to find that propaganda and wonder why someone hates her and brings that to her home,” Palmucci said.
Liang, whose parents came to the United States from China, said various departments in the city are already taking steps to ensure equity and inclusion for all residents. She was concerned, however, that those efforts were secondary to other items the departments are tasked with overseeing.
“The creation of this department, I think, will help create a dedicated focus on this effort and will also serve ultimately as a bridge between every resident of this city and all of the work that the departments are doing and everything that is going on in city government right now,” Liang said.
Ward 3 Councillor Ian Cain, the only Black person to serve on the council, said he supported the spirit of the ordinance but questioned if it went far enough. The new department head, he noted, would be tasked with logging concerns raised by residents, but the ordinance doesn’t explain what happens after such concerns are brought forward.
“What I’m hearing from the people who provided their experiences tonight, is they are looking for enforcement of some kind. I don’t think that department is going to have this,” Cain said. “Is this just a department that is going to be taking calls and reports and creating a list…what do you do with that?”
Cain asked Palmucci to withdraw his motion to approve the ordinance. Palmucci declined to do so but said he would be willing to work with Cain to address those concerns going forward.
In the end, councillors approved creating the new department in an 8-1 vote, with Ward 1 Councillor David McCarthy opposed.
“We all keep saying this is a step in the right direction – this is a leap into a very vague ordinance,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy also suggested the city’s constituent services staff could be tasked with the duties that would be assigned to the new department.
“I always thought constituent services would get the phone calls with complaints about anything,” he said. “Why wouldn’t we build a position in that department, or try to with the administration, to get it off the ground?”
Palmucci said having a department dedicated to the issues of social justice and equity, even if that department consists of just one person, would help it work with various other city departments. Liang said having a dedicated department would ensure whoever is appointed to the position has the appropriate education and experience.
The public hearing portion of the meeting lasted more than 90 minutes. Some 100 people tuned into the hearing on Zoom with more than 30 speaking in support of the ordinance.
The Rev. Doug Gray, the pastor of the First Church of Squantum, said he and his family were excited to move to Quincy because of the city’s diversity.
“We have indeed found that…but the darker side of diversity we have also found here, and that is real racism and prejudice,” Gray said.
“The forces of racism are well entrenched in our police force and in our neighborhoods. Like many white people, I have a hard time seeing it sometimes because I don’t face that kind of discrimination myself, but without a doubt that discrimination is there.”
Resident Kate Campbell said her daughter recently visited a Walgreens in the city and left the store “hysterical because someone chose to call her some very unkind words.”
“I think about this department so much because I had no one to call,” Campbell said. “My daughter is 15 and this is probably the fourth or fifth merchant since she was 10 years old that she had to deal with…somebody who felt it would make them feel better to call her ‘corona’ or call her that lousy Chinese slur or to say, ‘I’m sorry, we only accept money from our own kind.’”
In addition to those who spoke in favor of the new department during the public hearing, Councillor Anne Mahoney said 22 residents wrote letters in support as well.
One resident, John Rodophele, spoke against creating the department. He said he would favor hiring more people to work in constituent services.