Hearing

Over cost concerns from two councilors, the City Council Tuesday endorsed creating a new city department to oversee diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in municipal government.

PITTSFIELD — The City Council Wednesday endorsed creating a new city office to oversee diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in municipal government and the broader community — despite cost concerns from two councilors.

Councilors signed off on a $99,760 funding proposal from Mayor Linda Tyer for the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, money she said would pay for a half-year of expenses associated with the new department, as she anticipates several months will be needed for planning and recruitment before it swings into gear. An ordinance amendment will also have to take place to add the office to city’s roster, she said.

Eventually, there will be two chief DEI officers — one to lead initiatives on the city side and one in Pittsfield Public Schools — as well as an administrative assistant. The council approved $51,610 for about six months salary for the city’s officer, about the same amount included in the school district budget for next fiscal year for the Pittsfield Public School officer.

The officers would work on employee recruitment, training and retention, and do so in tandem with existing employees across city departments who will serve as “ambassadors” with responsibilities including helping new hires acclimate to the workplace, offer resources and report concerns to human resources. The ambassadors will be paid stipends for their work. The office was the top recommendation issued by a study group Tyer convened in October.

Earlier in the meeting, several councilors expressed concerns about the size of Tyer’s proposed fiscal 2022 budget of $179.4 million, which is an increase of about $10.4 million, or 5.6 percent, over this year’s budget.

Councilor Chris Connell said while not opposed to the creation of the office, he said the budget for a new city department should be more conservative, and proposed cutting the $21,500 proposed for non-salary expenses in half. The motion failed 2-9, with only Kevin Morandi joining Connell in favor of the reduction. The motion to pass the $99,760 in funding passed by the opposite margin, 9-2.

“With the budget that’s in front of us this year, the percentage of the increase, adding another department, adding personnel, I won’t be supporting this department budget request,” said Morandi.

Councilor Helen Moon, on the other hand, said it can be expensive getting a new department like this off the ground, while community leader and study group member Alisa Costa told councilors that her panel put forward a conservative funding recommendation based on their research.

“We want to do this, and we want to do this right,” said Costa. “This is a really important turning point when you’re doing this work within a community. ... COVID has really struck a chord, and shown us things about our community that we weren’t necessarily aware of. And so I would urge that it’s better to be on the side of caution and make sure that there’s enough resources to do it right.”

At-Large Councilor Pete White, who chairs the city’s Affirmative Action Advisory Committee, said that amid protests in support of Black lives and national violence against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, he welcomes a department whose mission it is to make schools and local government look more like the city at large.

“I really see this as a step moving in the right direction of having full representation,” said White. “For me, I was born with Spina Bifida. And seeing people who have disabilities in roles is not something I saw growing up. So anything we can do to make the people in our communities feel better about knowing that they’re represented by people who have similar backgrounds and experiences is extremely important.”

Amanda Burke can be reached at aburke@berkshireeagle.com, on Twitter @amandaburkec and 413-496-6296.

Amanda Burke covers Pittsfield City Hall for The Berkshire Eagle. An Ithaca, New York native, she previously worked at The Herald News of Fall River and the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise.