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Does diversity in government matter?

Posted by: tdt -

 Does diversity in government matter?

by Cerise Merritt Ripps

Does city government need diversity? The Dalhart City Council seems uncomfortable with it. 

During the June 24 regular council meeting, members discussed their uneasiness with having members on the Economic Development Corporation who may not share their same views. Ginger Cleavinger resigned from the City Council on May 28. In her resignation letter she stated that “over the past three years, it has been an honor to serve our community and work alongside such dedicated individuals. Together, we made significant strides in addressing the needs of our residents and improving the quality of life in our city. However, following the recent changes within the council and the direction in which it is heading, I find that my values and vision for our city no longer align with the majority of the current council members…” 

The council had planned to go into executive session to discuss removal and appointment of EDC members but could not because the members are not employees, so the discussion was held in open meeting. 

Councilman Terry Stegall, Ward 1, began by pointing out that the EDC, which is funded by sales tax, has seven appointed board members. Three terms expire in September 2024; four end next year. Current members are: Sherri Haschke, president; Dwayne Smith, vice-president; Ginger Cleavinger, secretary; Camilla Green, treasurer; Alfonso Venegas; Franky Scott and Ann-Claire Gustin. Ex-officio members include the Dalhart mayor, James Stroud; city manager, which is currently vacant, and president of the Chamber of Commerce, Kristy Detwiler. Smith is also a former City Council member. 

“I’m a little uneasy after having read Ginger’s letter about being on the same page with us, having her – you know, she resigned because she wasn’t on the same page with us – so I’m just uneasy with her having that spot on the EDC making decisions for the future if she doesn’t feel like she’s on the same page with us,” Stegall said.

“You’re responsible for anybody that’s on the commissions’ actions, so if you’re not comfortable with them it’s your prerogative to replace them,” Mayor James Stroud responded.

“Personally, the money that comes in is from local business owners, through taxes through them, and I would love to see everybody on that thing eventually be people that put into that pot,” Stegall continued. “It’s like having people at church decide where the money’s going but they don’t give, so I would love to see it – not all at once, but really – really to not – I’m friends with Ginger, she’s in the same ward as me, that’s good, but I’m uneasy having someone on that commission when they state they’re not on the same page as us.” (Stegall is also leader of New Life Church.)

The council discussed possible replacements – all local business men – who might be considered for the future, but decided to table the issue until they decided which spots to replace and with whom.

In the meantime, Cleavinger has already submitted her resignation from the EDC board as well, saying that she is “driven by concerns about the direction and actions of some of the newly elected council members, which I believe do not align with the values and ethical standards essential for our community’s governance. 

“Transparency, integrity, and accountability are fundamental principles that I have always upheld in my public service. Unfortunately, continuing to serve under the current circumstances would compromise these principles and hinder my ability to contribute effectively to the well-being and development of our city.”

EDC president Sherri Haschke expressed dismay over the Council’s actions. “I do not agree with Council wanting to change the current EDC board, due to the fact that current board members are a diverse group including men, women, different ethnicities and different economic statuses. If they do decide to replace members with the suggested members, it will revert back to a less open-minded group, which was not growing our community with new businesses and helping current business owners with improvements.

“The benefit of having a diverse board is that the new ideas of economic development are wide range. Some of the suggested replacements have already served on the Dalhart EDC in the past. I also heard them state something about having all business owners on the board. This would create a board that is not diverse. A diverse board is not always on the same page, but always working towards the same goal.”

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