A Frederick alderman wants to declare racism to be a public health crisis in the city.
A resolution proposed Wednesday by Alderman Derek Shackelford would commit the city to “honestly and directly addressing minority health inequities, education, employment practices, economic mobility, and other factors that impact the social determinants of health,” according to a summary of the resolution.
The proposal would commit the city to setting up a comprehensive plan to include racial equity and social justice principles and strategies in its operations, programs and community engagement; encourage the mayor to include plans for racial equity and social justice in the city's strategic planning and budgeting processes; and have city departments collect data by race in department staffing, procurement, contracting, and other areas, among other provisions.
“I know there are some people in our community who say, why are we doing this? And I say, why not do this,” Shackelford said at a workshop with the mayor and aldermen.
There have been 24 municipalities around the country that have passed similar resolutions, along with Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties in Maryland, as well as in the states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, Shackelford said.
His presentation on the proposed resolution included information from a 2018 survey of Frederick County high school students that showed that Black students are least likely to get preventive health care, and students of color were the least likely to eat breakfast once over a period of seven days or to eat breakfast seven days in a row.
Data shows that census tracts with the highest rates of unemployment match the tracts with the highest Black populations, and that three of the four city census tracts with the highest median household income have no Black residents, according to the presentation.
The city needs to look at the issues of gentrification and how it is both knowingly and unknowingly influenced by racism, Shackelford said.
“This is an issue that's not going away any time soon,” he said.
The other aldermen signaled their support for the proposal.
“I think that this is the perfect time to be discussing all of this,” said Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak.
After spending several hours at last week's workshop examining the Frederick Police Department's policies on the use of force and other issues, the city needs to follow up with reviews of other areas, said Alderman Ben MacShane.
“We need to be looking up and down. And this is getting to a few of those examples,” he said.
After some revisions suggested at the workshop are made, the resolution is expected to come up for a vote at the mayor and aldermen's July 16 meeting.
Rent rules during the pandemic
The mayor and aldermen also discussed a proposed ordinance by MacShane on Wednesday, which would prohibit landlords from increasing rent or charging various types of late fees during the state of emergency of the current COVID-19 pandemic and for six months after it ends.
Nearly half of the city's residents are renters, and many are facing severe economic stress during the pandemic, MacShane said.
“We are facing a dire situation for many of our residents,” he said.
The law would only apply to existing leases, and not to new ones.
Alderman Roger Wilson asked how the law would be enforced.
For now, it would come down to tenants contacting the city's code enforcement staff, MacShane said. Ultimately, it would be enforced by the department of Housing and Human Services that the city is developing.
Landlords would likely be notified about the details of the ordinance before the city begins issuing fines, Mayor Michael O'Connor said.
The proposed ordinance calls for a fine of $1,000 a day that a violation continues.
O'Connor noted that the city had received a letter from the Frederick County Association of Realtors arguing that the ban should last 90 days rather than 180, and asking whether the law would apply to states of emergency declared for blizzards or other types of events.
Those are included in a different section of the Maryland code than the current state of emergency, MacShane said, and wouldn't apply.
“This isn't the same as, say, a hurricane state of emergency,” he said.