TWIN FALLS — After months of discussion about diversity and representation in local government stemming from a proposed resolution rejected by the City Council, Twin Falls has announced a new effort to reach out to marginalized groups in the community.
A diversity steering committee will help city manager Travis Rothweiler and other leaders identify and address issues and barriers for underrepresented communities in Twin Falls, Rothweiler said Nov. 13. In the coming months, the city plans to develop a charter for the committee and kick off a “listening tour,” in which city officials will visit and speak with constituents around the community.
“I think the important thing is the opportunity to dialogue,” Rothweiler told the Times-News before the City Council meeting Tuesday, at which he announced the initiative. “The City Council chambers is really a place of conducting business, not sitting around a table constructing understanding.”
A proposed resolution condemning family separation at the U.S. border was rejected by the City Council twice in July, resulting in weeks of contentious immigration debate at council meetings and a subsequent push by supporters of the resolution urging the city to create a diversity advisory committee.
A small coalition behind that push met with city officials a handful of times in the months that followed, organizer Liyah Babayan told the Times-News. The end result of those conversations was an agreement to form a committee to address diversity and inclusion.
“We approached the City Council in regards to the family separation resolution, but that focus really turned into something even more concerning: the fact that there is just a lack of connection and lack of understanding of issues that do affect members of our own community here that our local government, our very first level of representation, was out of touch with,” Babayan said.
The announcement was welcomed by Richard Aldama, a Twin Falls resident who was active in efforts to pass the family separation resolution. Aldama was not involved in more recent conversations with city leaders due to personal obligations but said he sees the discussions as a step in the right direction as the city grows and welcomes new residents.
“It’s a gradual evolution that I think communities have,” Aldama said. “I think in other parts of the nation, there are places where there have been long-standing (minority) communities that are part of the fabric of that city ... and they’re pretty well woven into whatever takes place. But I think here, it would be a more recent phenomenon.
“We’re just going through the growing pains of making sure we’re doing all the right things.”
Aldama and other supporters of the initiative wore white to the City Council meeting Tuesday in a show of unity.
Mayor Shawn Barigar, one of five City Council members who voted against the family separation resolution back in July, said he sees the steering committee and listening tour as a chance to “get out and hear a broader spectrum of voices” across the city.
“We’re trying to understand the challenges facing traditionally marginalized communities within our community, and seeing if there are ways the city can address these concerns,” Barigar said.
While a schedule is not yet set for the listening tour, Rothweiler and Barigar said they anticipate meeting residents where they are: at public spaces such as the library, at faith centers, and at meetings for groups such as Magic Valley Pride.
“It’s an opportunity for us to engage in areas where people feel safe,” Rothweiler said.
Rothweiler said he views the city’s next steps as “really exciting,” but cautioned against expecting that the committee will be a cure-all solution to challenges that minority communities face in Twin Falls.
“Sometimes in excitement, there is a tendency to become over-exuberant and get impatient,” Rothweiler said. “We want to see progress, but we don’t want to race and rush for the sake of getting something done.”