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Salem's Diversity, Equity & Inclusion - Mayoral Debate Fact Check (Question 2) - October 18, 2021


On October 18, 2021, the Salem News and The Frederick E. Berry Institute of Politics at Salem State University hosted a Salem Mayoral Candidate Forum, at the Sophia Gordon Center at Salem State University. A panel of current Salem State University students questioned candidates for the mayoral position: incumbent Salem Mayor, Kimberley Driscoll, and challenger, Ward 7 City Councillor, Stephen Dibble.


The second question the candidates were asked was about Salem's ideals around diversity, equity and inclusion, and what the candidates have done, and plan to do to support and further those ideals. A transcript of their answers, followed by research we have done related to portions of their responses, follows. In order to watch the video of the this question, follow this link, and begin at minute 19:06:00.

 

Question: “This question was asked anonymously: Salem strives to be a city of peace and a community that welcomes diversity and strives for equity and inclusion. What have you done in your political career to lean on these ideals, and what will you do as mayor in 2022 and beyond?”


Dibble: Good question, and important question. Well, I’ve been open and inclusive my entire life, welcoming people. Salem, for hundreds of years, has been open and inclusive. We have wonderful cultural neighborhoods around the city – Italian area, Polish area, Russian people moving to Salem, Albanians, on and on… Salem has been open and inclusive for a long time until recently, where the mayor keeps saying we are open and inclusive but yet walls are being put up around the city. It’s unacceptable. We have a Black population that has been ignored a little bit in Salem where we have a Black Picnic at the Willows and the mayor, I can’t understand, it has been going on for about 280 years and she almost squashed the program. It’s unacceptable. That group of volunteers challenged the mayor and I to a debate and the mayor refused to have the debate with the group before the primary. So we can do so much better in Salem, there’s more things that we can do, across the board. Every city and town can do better, but to put up walls, to alienate the Hispanic crowd in Salem, the population of Salem, to not allow the Muslim population to have a seat at the table, the Race Equity Task Force. She, they’ve asked 20 times at least, the mayor has denied or just ignored them, on and on. It’s unacceptable. It’s unacceptable what’s going on. We can do so much better in Salem.


Driscoll: Thank you. I really (am proud? Or find?) that Salem is a welcoming community and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished over the past several years to demonstrate that. We’ve passed a landmark non-discrimination ordinance, fully LGBTQ inclusive. We’ve established the North Shore Pride Parade and we host that every single year – proud (to be?) doing that. We’ve consistently scored 100 on the Human Rights Campaign Municipally Quality Index. I think it shows we’ve cultivated a welcoming and inclusive environment. This past year, in light of the George Floyd tragedy, we did form a Race Equity Task Force. We put together a broad cross section of community members, including many of the young people who led demonstrations in our city, who are aching for change, who recognize the inequities that exist within systems, that predate them. We put together this cross-section of individuals and came up with our initial report, our Race Equity Task Force report, that recommended a number of things, including the hiring of a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion position, the ability to bring on body cameras within our police department, a number of benchmarks that we hope to use going forward. My opponent voted to cut the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director post from the budget. He did not support the body cameras in the police department. His tactics by limiting development in our community, including the moratorium on any new development happening in Salem, and continually voting against every opportunity for more affordable housing policies, including Inclusionary Zoning ordinances that, a proven smart growth zoning tool, three times voting against the accessory dwelling unit ordinance, the last time being one that would be 100% affordable – every new in-law apartment created would ensure that it was be rented at 30% below market values. That is not welcoming and inclusive. That is creating an environment where people who are here, are able to keep people who want to get here, out. That’s not the values of Salem. It’s not consistent with the administration. It’s not consistent with what people in our community want. We’re going to continue to be a welcoming and inclusive community, and that means we’re not afraid to hold up a mirror and be self-reflective, at the areas we need to improve – whether it’s equity within police and fire departments. When I first started, we had no Spanish speaking officers in our fire department and very little in our police department. We now have community wide goals, I’ve increased those numbers dramatically. We are a welcoming community because we are intentional about it. Not because we choose to focus on what we haven’t done, but we choose to focus on making sure our community is reflective of our entire profile, and that people in our community feel seen, respected, and heard. When we all do better, we harness the power of our community for greatness. That’s what we’re going to continue to do over the next four years."

 

Here is the research, conducted by Salem 4 All, in response to some of these statements by the candidates:

 

Dibble:


1. "That group of volunteers challenged the mayor and I to a debate and the mayor refused to have the debate with the group before the primary."


UNABLE TO VERIFY


We reached out to the organization, Salem United, that has taken on the role in recent years, of organizing the majority of the logistics around the Negro Election Day Festival at the Salem Willows each Summer. Doreen Wade, the President of Salem United, stated that she is not able to respond at this time due to concerns over potential resulting backlash against and safety of the organization and its members.


Further, Salem United emphasized that due to historical racist and harmful associations with its past name (which was used in response to this question), they are working to restore it to the original 1740 name of the event, Negro Election Day. We can read more about that effort here: https://www.salemunitedinc.org/copy-of-history-of-negro-election-day.


Dibble:


2. "to not allow the Muslim population to have a seat at the table, the Race Equity Task Force. She, they’ve asked 20 times at least, the mayor has denied or just ignored them"


UNABLE TO VERIFY


None of the members of the Race Equity Task Force we spoke with were able to recall a single request of this specific nature. The only conversation related at all to incorporating faith groups into the Task Force that members recall is that after all the members of the Task Force had already been carefully selected and invited, they received a more general request to be sure they included 'people of faith' on the Task Force. As a result, they determined together at that time that multiple faiths were, indeed, represented on the Task Force. However, it remained a primary point of interest to get as many voices involved as possible, and members consistently worked to do so.


The Race Equity Task Force released a report detailing their recommendations, at the end of their initial year of working together, which we can read here: https://raceequitysalem.org/. The report includes a letter from the Chair of the Task Force, indicating that there was an overwhelming amount of interest in getting involved, that the Task Force itself is only the beginning of the effort, and that efforts to close racial equity gaps and to end racism will continue in the future.


 

Driscoll:


1. "We’ve consistently scored 100 on the Human Rights Campaign Municipally Quality Index."


TRUE


In 2014, the Human Rights Commission Municipal Equality Index featured this piece in their annual report about Salem. It highlights the first year that Salem received a 100% rating from the Human Rights Commission on this index. Salem has received a 100% rating every year since that time.


Driscoll:

2. "My opponent voted to cut the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director post from the budget."


TRUE


We reviewed this claim recently and determined that Councillor Dibble did vote to cut the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director position from the budget.


You can read our research on this, here.


Driscoll:


3. "He did not support the body cameras in the police department."


TRUE


Councillor Dibble was absent from the committee meeting where this was initially discussed and voted on.

At the full City Council meeting, Councillor Dibble was the lone vote against the full bond order that included body cameras for the police department, in addition to a number of other line items.


Driscoll:


4. "His tactics by limiting development in our community, including the moratorium on any new development happening in Salem, and continually voting against every opportunity for more affordable housing policies, including Inclusionary Zoning ordinances that, a proven smart growth zoning tool, three times voting against the accessory dwelling unit ordinance, the last time being one that would be 100% affordable – every new in-law apartment created would ensure that it was be rented at 30% below market values."


TRUE


Moratorium: On March 25, 2021, a construction moratorium was introduced on the City Council floor by Councillor Dominguez. The introduction of the moratorium and the discussion that follows it can be viewed on this video, beginning at minute 2:19:43. At minute 2:39:22 of the same video, Councillor Dibble said, "I actually co-sponsored this, originally."


TRUE


Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance: In July of 2020, Councillor Dibble voted against an Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, which would have guaranteed affordability in every new development. The Salem News covered that meeting here.


The following is clipped from the City Council meeting minutes:

MOSTLY TRUE

(The caveat here is that while this measure was brought before the City Council and debated three times, and not supported by Councillor Dibble all three times, it failed before it reached a vote the second time, so there were ultimately two votes taken on this measure, not three.)


Accessory Dwelling Units: Accessory Dwelling Units, also frequently referred to as "in-law" apartments, came before the City Council in 2019, 2020 and 2021.


On May 27, 2021, the measure passed with a vote of 7-4. Councillor Dibble voted against the measure. Here is the Salem News coverage of the meeting. Here is the clip from the City Council meeting minutes (Note that the votes were recorded backwards in the meeting minutes. The seven City Councillors listed as having voted in the negative actually voted in support of the measure. The four Councillors listed as having voted in support of the measure actually voted against it.). The ordinance was adopted.

In 2021, a guaranteed affordability component was added to the ordinance for accessory dwelling units, ensuring that every one would be rented at 30% below the Fair Market Value. Here is that section of the meeting minutes:

In 2020, an Accessory Dwelling Unit Ordinance was brought before the Council. It was ultimately tabled after discussion, and never brought to a vote due to the anticipation that there would not be sufficient votes to pass the ordinance at that time.

In 2019, an Accessory Dwelling Ordinance was brought before the City Council for the first time and a vote was taken in October of 2019 where it failed to pass with a vote of 6 in favor and 5 against, since a 2/3 majority was needed at that time to pass this particular type of measure (as it is zoning related). Councillor Dibble voted against the ordinance.


Driscoll:


5. "When I first started, we had no Spanish speaking officers in our fire department and very little in our police department. We now have community wide goals, I’ve increased those numbers dramatically."


UNABLE TO VERIFY


We spoke to the City of Salem Human Resources Department and a representative shared that while it is certainly true that there are more Spanish speaking officers of both the Fire and Police departments, the Human Resources department is unable to provide comparative data and records from 2006 to compare with the records and data of 2021.


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