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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Somerville rolls out city boards and commissions diversification initiative

Somerville City Hall is pictured on March 12, 2021.

Somerville Mayor Katjana Ballantyne recently launched an initiative to diversify city boards and commissions in the Somerville city government. In an effort to make them more inclusive, the city will reevaluate the selection and application process for positions on boards and commissions. 

“If we want to live up to our values of equity and inclusivity, we need to break down those barriers so that our boards and commissions are representative of the wonderful diversity in our community,” Ballantyne wrote in a statement announcing the boards and commissions diversification plan. 

Meghann Ackerman, deputy director of communications for the City of Somerville, elaborated on the phases and timeline of the initiative.

“This process has three phases: making the recruitment process more inclusive, reviewing the appointment process, and addressing barriers that prevent people from serving,” Ackerman wrote in an email to the Daily. “The full plan is expected to be rolled out over the next few months.” 

Inclusivity and engagement with the community are core tenets of Ballantyne’s administration. 

“Mayor Ballantyne is focused on inclusivity, equity, and fostering an environment where there can be progress for all,” Ackerman wrote.

Ackerman explained the importance of ensuring that city boards and commissions are made more inclusive.

“Serving on boards and commissions is a way for residents to be civically involved and to help shape policy, so it’s important that the membership of our boards and commissions reflects the diversity of our community,” Ackerman wrote. 

The initiative is a response to significant barriers that currently exist for prospective city board members.

“We already know about some barriers, including language, lack of childcare, and the timing of meetings, that can make it difficult or impossible for some residents to join,” Ackerman wrote.

According to Ackerman, more diverse boards and commissions not only help to better represent the community, but they also allow for a more diverse set of voices to shape the policies enacted by Ballantyne’s office.

 “More diverse membership on boards and commissions brings more diverse views and experiences,” Ackerman wrote. 

Ackerman added that city policies are enhanced when these types of initiatives are enacted. 

“We get better outcomes when more voices are involved. People have unique lived experiences that can help shape more inclusive and equitable policies,” Ackerman explained. 

The work to ensure equity and inclusion in Somerville local government will not stop here. As the program is rolled out over the next few months, the mayor’s office will continue collecting resident feedback to improve future equity and inclusion projects, according to Ackerman.

Though this project is specifically targeting new members of government and barriers to entry, its effects will help to address broader equity issues.

“Boards and commissions have sometimes served as gateways to residents getting involved in local government in other ways,” Ackerman noted. 

Somerville City Councilor Kristen Strezo attested that the work done on city boards and commissions is a vital component of the Somerville government.

“As someone who has served [Somerville] for years as a Commissioner, including two terms as a commission chair, I know about the devotion and care and many hours of work that so many commissioners put forward,” Strezo wrote in an email to the Daily. “I will always fight to ensure our commissioners are receiving the support they need to serve Somerville and I applaud Mayor [Ballantyne's] commitment to further support their work.”

City boards and commissions work closely with members of the City Council to ensure that policy is enacted efficiently and effectively for Somerville residents. 

These goals are reflected in Ballantyne’s 100-day agenda that, according to the City of Somerville website, “is designed to take on the most pressing issues facing Somerville, deliver on community priorities, strengthen basic services that impact daily quality of life and establish the practice of applying an equity lens to all City actions.”

Ballantyne plans to roll out other programs that also address issues of equity and justice in Somerville, including the Voices of Somerville 2022 survey, which will survey Somerville residents from all backgrounds about COVID-19 and other issues impacting the city. 

The mayor will also work with the Department of Racial and Social Justice to “advance the City's commitment to eliminating institutional and structural racism and its intersections with other forms of oppression,” according to the City of Somerville website.