After Mayor John Ernst said the city was “actively listening” to residents during the nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice, city officials are coming up with ideas to continue the conversation on race, including a commission on race relations and virtual Civic Dinners community meetings.

Ernst and council have not worked on details on what those could look like, but they want the commission to be able to “make meaningful recommendations and effectuate change,” said City Councilmember Madeleine Simmons.

Civic Dinners is a company that helps clients plan and format dinners and conversations about varying social topics. Brookhaven hosted a Civic Dinners meeting in September 2019 about welcoming immigrants and plans to use that as a model for the upcoming one on race.

“We want to continue the conversation on racial justice and ensure it is not just lip service,” Simmons said.

Brookhaven Planning Commissioner John Funny came up with the idea of the commission, Simmons said. Simmons also invited Funny to participate in a June 29 town hall with her about racial justice and equality, where they discussed the importance of having candid conversations about race.

For the Civic Dinners conversation, members of the community would “gather” for a meal over video call to discuss big community issues in light of the protests.

Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul plans to use the Civic Dinners program to continue conversations about race in his city as well.

City spokesperson Burke Brennan said participants would agree on a date and restaurant, and a meal would be delivered to their location and the meeting would take place via video call to adhere to COVID-19 safety precautions.

People at the September 2019 Civic Dinners discussion talked about ways to welcome refugees and immigrants into the community, which included participants from high school students and police officers to religious leaders and city staff. The dinner had a theme of “belonging” and participants were asked three major questions to prompt the discussion as a way to learn new perspectives.

“From this one dinner event alone, commitments were made to continue the conversation within our community,” said Councilmember Joe Gebbia at the time. “This, in my opinion, is the real story that makes this effort truly amazing.”

The city also continues to promote its transparency portal, a web page that allows the public to see where their tax money goes, including vendor payments, department budgets and capital improvement project spending.

The city plans to include funding for implicit bias training for the city staff in the 2021 budget, Brennan said, which would be similar to the customer service and sexual harassment training city staff complete every year.

City manager Christian Sigman also bought copies of “The Nibble Theory and the Kernel of Power” by Kaleel Jamison for the city’s 13 department heads and assistant city manager. The book is about leadership, self-empowerment and growth, according to its book description on Amazon.

Sigman said the author, a first-generation American with Lebanese parents, was a successful management consultant during a time when White men held almost all corporate senior management positions. He said he hopes this book helps “sustain an open dialogue” for the city.

“I chose the book because it has a concise message that there are very simple things we can avoid doing to help others grow exponentially,” Sigman said in an email. “The book identifies common-sense management behaviors to avoid without overtly dwelling on gender, race or other biases, prejudices and discriminations.”

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