By SCOTT JACKSON
Quincy officials have announced the names of the nine members of the newly formed Commission on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Ward 3 Councillor Ian Cain; attorney Gabriel Cheong; Faries Gray, a leader of the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag; Philip Chong, the president and CEO of Quincy Asian Resources; David Murphy, the city’s commissioner of natural resources and formerly the town manager of Randolph; Lola Tom, the director of Asian services and community development for Hamel-Lydon Chapel; Mercy Umoren, a 30-year resident of the city; business owner Tony Patel; and Jean Kutash, who is a member of the city’s Commission on Disabilities.
The commissioners held their first meeting on Thursday evening. Koch, in an interview earlier Thursday, said that meeting was intended to be organizational in nature and would allow the members to get to know each other.
“The commission members, most of them haven’t met each other yet,” Koch said. “It is probably going to be more introductions, set up the ground rules, what kind of a schedule are we looking at…they have got to figure all that out.”
Koch said he planned to ask Cain, who is the first Black person elected to the City Council, to chair the commission at the first meeting. He also wanted to let the members know his office would be available to provide assistance as needed.
“Essentially, I am going to get on, thank everybody for serving, letting them know I have asked Ian to chair the meetings, that my office will be available to do any task they need to be done,” Koch said.
“I don’t want this to become a lot of work for any individuals. They are all volunteering their time, so if there is research they want done, there is information they want, the city, various departments, can handle that aspect, and then I will get out of the way.
“I will say hello, I will let them know my thoughts about things in the city, and then hopefully we get a report sometime in the fall from them and take it from there.”
Chris Walker, the mayor’s chief of staff, said the commission is not subject to the state’s Open Meeting Law. Nevertheless, future meetings will likely be open to the public.
“It’s not subject to it for a couple of reasons,” Walker wrote in an email. “First, the Commission was formed at the sole discretion of the Mayor and not by any law, regulation, or order from the City Council. Secondly, the decisions the Mayor makes based on the work of the Commission are his alone.
“Future meetings are expected to be open to the public regardless of the Open Meeting Law.”
Koch had announced he would be establishing the commission in March, two months after city councillors passed an ordinance to create a Department of Social Justice and Equity, which would consist of a single employee, a director, who would be tasked to, “create equity and inclusion among all populations in Quincy.” The mayor did not include that department in his budget for fiscal year 2022, which began July 1.
In Thursday’s interview, Koch said he has not seen problems other communities across the nation are facing happen in Quincy. The commission, he explained, would probe into those issues.
“I heard the message from some people in the community who felt the city wasn’t doing enough for segments of our population. As you know, I publicly did not agree with that. If you go back a year and a half before the pandemic and before the social justice movement across the country, the city was flying. The school system was doing extremely well. People were moving here because of the schools, the parks, it’s a safe city,” Koch said.
“I’m not saying we’re perfect – nobody is perfect – I just have not seen the types of issues that have been described nationally happening here in Quincy.”
“Having said that,” Koch continued, “I think this will be good for all parties, because I think the commission is going to learn about things the city is doing that they are not even aware of – whether it is rec programs, things happening in the schools, the libraries – and maybe the city learns some things from this process we weren’t aware of.
“I think it is a good exercise for the city to go through and take a hard look at things and make some recommendations going forward. I am open to ideas and suggestions, but at the end of the day, if it is a funding issue, it is my call then of course the [City] Council’s call.”