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Is Ocoee's new Human Relations Diversity Board just like the old Human Relations Diversity board?

New structure? Check. New members? Approved. Mission? Still TBA.

Ocoee commissioners approve members to the HRDB on May 2, 2023. Note that no vote is taken on a new mission for the board.

Six months after Ocoee city commissioners voted to dissolve the fractious 13-member Human Relations Diversity Board (HRDB) and reconstitute it as a much slimmer board with members representing each district, the commission Tuesday appointed five new people to serve on it.

They include Vinny Singh (District 1), Michelle Cummings (District 2), Josh Cease (District 3), Dr. James Moyer (District 4) and Johnny Milien as an at large member. Bill Maxwell and Jason Mellen, board members prior to the restructure, were reappointed. Moyer has been a board member in the past as has District 4 Commissioner Ages Hart, now the commission liaison to the board.

The HRDB has been on ice since December when the city commission intervened after months of board turmoil over its mission, programming and budget spilled out into public view, the board chair Lori Hart (married to Commissioner Hart) resigned a month before Ocoee Remembers, and a YouTube video circulated, defaming board members and accusing commissioners of violating Sunshine Law. At its final meeting of 2022, the board convened, then immediately voted to adjourn since members did not want to start new business when there was no information about who, if anyone, would be reappointed. (Of the 13, only two, Maxwell and Mellen, were reappointed.)

What Will The HRDB Do?

New appointments, initially meant to be made in January, were delayed. They were delayed again in February when District 2 Commissioner Rosemary Wilsen made a surprise motion to postpone appointing board members until after the March municipal election to allow incoming commissioners to choose the next members. Then Commissioners Larry Brinson, Sr. and George Oliver III objected strenuously, but they were voted down.

Now that the members are in place, it’s uncertain what the HRDB’s role will be. In the past, the board managed the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Parade and the Black History Month Essay Contest and organized Ocoee Remembers. This year, the city’s Support Services Department organized the parade and the essay contest. Whether the HRDB will be responsible for organizing Ocoee Remembers, in early November, is unclear.

“Good question,” Maxwell, the board’s longest serving member, said when reached by phone Thursday.

“It’s too early to know,” Doug Gaines, acting director of Support Services, said in an email.

The former HRDB board was heavily criticized for overspending its budget for last year’s event commemorating 1920’s Election Day violence, as well as for allowing portions of the event to become politicized in service to Oliver's eventual campaign for mayor.

"Access is where the action happens. You can’t have unity if the possibility of equitable outcomes isn’t possible."

Last year’s problems prompted District 1 Commissioner Scott Kennedy, a former HRDB member who worked on Ocoee Remembers, to pitch the commission on getting the HRDB out of the event planning business altogether. Kennedy wants the HRDB to function in a more advisory and educational capacity, “providing input to city staff, providing support to implement programs, services and policies [and] engaging with the community and finding barriers to equity,” he told the commission at the May 2 meeting.

“The whole purpose of unity, the whole purpose of diversity and inclusion is to promote equitable outcomes for the diverse populations that we have. I think that’s really what the mission should be. To promote equity, equal treatment, fairness, equal resources,” Kennedy said at that meeting.

“I don’t think it’s a major change, but I think it’s an important change. Access is where the action happens. You can’t have unity if the possibility of equitable outcomes isn’t possible. That’s where we need to work.”

A Missed Vote

But whether the new board will move in this direction remains an open question. This new mission was part of a series of motions Kennedy made during the May 2 meeting. But it looks like approving a new direction for the board got lost in the shuffle as the motions rapidly changed to accommodate objections.

Initially Kennedy made a three-part motion that included approving board members, changing the mission and renaming the board the IDEA Advisory Board. IDEA stands for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access.

“It’s what cities and boards are doing now. It’s a modern, updated version of the [DEI] concept,” Kennedy told the commission then.

Wilsen objected, saying she only wanted to approve the board members. Kennedy then made a new motion to approve the HRDB members. That passed unanimously. Kennedy then offered a third motion to change both the board’s name and mission.

Wilsen immediately objected to changing the board’s name. “We worked very hard over the years to have the HRDB board called the HRDB board, and I don’t think that’s a situation we should be changing,” she said.

Wilsen added that she was not against the name, but that it should be the new board's decision. The motion to change the name tanked on a 3-2 vote, sinking with it the new board mission as well. A motion on the board mission alone was not brought forward.

Reached Thursday, Kennedy appeared surprised to hear from VoxPopuli that the board’s new mission had not been approved in the volley of motions since the commission had generally embraced the idea of reform.

“I felt there was consensus to set a new mission and direction for the HRDB, not just for it to be an event board,” he said. “The only objection was to the name change.”

Kennedy told VoxPopuli he would ask for clarification at the June 6 city commission meeting. He added that he would also revisit the idea of renaming the board with the HRDB once the board begins meeting again.

“Since the commission voted to put the decision in the hands of the HRDB, I plan to plead my case there.”


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