Jonesboro Alderman L.J. Bryant noticed a familiar pattern when he attended board or commission meetings or examined a roster of commissioners. The city’s boards and commissions are dominated by white men, and he thinks it’s a problem. Mayor Harold Perrin and the rest of the city council agreed.
A resolution requiring more consideration be given to minority and female candidates was passed by the city Aug. 7. Bryant told Talk Business & Politics he doesn’t think city leaders were trying to keep these groups from serving.
“It’s nothing the mayor has done intentionally,” Bryant said. “We need a good cross section of people to make better informed decisions.”
Determining what percentage of minorities and females serve on these boards and commissions is a tough task, Bryant said. The city doesn’t keep those statistics, and when Talk Business & Politics asked the city for those numbers, it received a 137 page email that listed all the boards and commissions. When looking at the lists, it’s obvious that most are white men just based on the names listed, Bryant said.
Jonesboro has about 76,000 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. More than half the city population is female and about 23% is minority. With these numbers, more women and minorities should be serving, he added.
“I’m not saying don’t chose qualified people. I’m just saying I’m sure we can find qualified women and minorities in a city this large.”
There are qualification standards that could cause some boards or commissions to be dominated by a specific group. For instance, if a commissioner has to have engineering expertise, than the pool of candidates would be reduced to those with that specific qualification, and it might be dominated by one gender or race, Bryant said.
Perrin agreed with Bryant. He told Talk Business & Politics he supports adding diversity in leadership positions in the city. The mayor is in favor of creating more diversity on boards, commissions and committees.
“This is exactly why we’ve started Jonesboro Neighborhood Leadership: to identify, nurture and enlist members of the community not currently involved in public roles. I am confident that this program, set up and run by Community Development Director Tiffny Calloway, will produce a new generation of leaders, and that it will be diverse in age, race and gender makeup,” Perrin said.
The mayor, who is first vice president of the Arkansas Municipal League, said this is an issue AML members are tackling statewide.
“Too many cities are lacking a diversity of leadership, and that point was driven home at our last convention,” Perrin said. “It’s important to me that Jonesboro be a leader in this agenda, and that’s why we have formed JNL.”
The first JNL class will be selected Aug. 20 and the first class will be Sept. 6. More than 40 residents applied, and 18 will be chosen for the weekly class that will introduce its participants to city government in Jonesboro.
Bryant said he started this diversity push after talking to constituents. Many said they were upset that so few had a diverse representation. The resolution doesn’t have a requirement that the mayor’s office consider diversity in appointments, but when candidates are vetted on the City Council’s committee level it will help to have something on the books, Bryant said. As long as he’s on the council, it will be a subject that he will address when these appointments come through, he added.
“I think we can do a better job of being inclusive,” he said.