The Providence Reparations Committee, which is evaluating how to spend $10 million in federal pandemic relief funds, is expanding its list of recommendations.
An 11-point investment plan previewed last week and approved on Monday has gone up, with numerous sub-points, such as establishing a new library and reforming the civilian police review board of the city by increasing its transparency and requiring that all of its members live in Providence.
At one point Keith Stokes, who had previously helped the city write a report on its history of racism as the basis for reparations, warned the committee of a tendency to “get too much in the weeds ‘ or ‘we’ll never get there’. .”
In less than an hour, the commission had crossed only two points of the plan while a time control was announced. Jokingly, President Rodney Davis told Silas Pinto, the city’s director of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, that he had 30 seconds to comment.
Various wording changes and clarifications were discussed, such as adding “behavioral health” to a section on expanding mental health supports, or defining an “incubator” in a section on service delivery commercial, educational and social.
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The plan appears to have gone beyond how the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funds are invested and also seeks to affect the work of government, creating new bodies such as a city commission for diversity, inclusion and equity and a municipal commission for aboriginal rights, nor which the panel delved into in depth during its meeting.
The panel also recommended a policy think tank and debated the addition of a 16th seat on the city council that could function as an “at-large” position aimed at bolstering the representation of disenfranchised people.
Commissioner Christian Potter argued against the idea, saying such a plan ‘usually doesn’t give us an extra vote’ and ‘we don’t usually win that’, his suggestion being that the extra seat wouldn’t be representative of the communities the panel is focused on. Finally, the panel opted for the recommendation of the creation of a full-time paid position.
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In education, the panel called for the establishment of a charter school for students of African and indigenous descent, and a K-12 program for teaching the “Matter of Truth” from the city, which details Providence’s ties to the slave trade, its history of urban renewal and displacement, and other forms of racism.
It is unclear how all the items on the list would be funded, such as the school and the library. It remains to be seen whether those funds would come directly from the $10 million of American Rescue Plan Act money for which the panel is recommending uses, or from future investments the panel hopes to secure.
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For the panel, this is just the beginning. Stokes described the $10 million as “a starting point”, adding that “the recommendations you make are an equal starting point”.
“So the next step would be when the report of the commission is given to the mayor and council, then they and the staff, the administration, will work on development, programs and adoption policies.”