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Grand Forks council passes 'inclusion resolution' after emotional public remarks

Grand Forks' Monday City Council meeting was at times tense and at others deeply heartfelt as leaders, hearing comment after public comment, passed an "inclusion resolution" on a 7-0 vote.

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Grand Forks City Hall, 255 N. 4th St. (GF Herald photo/Sam Easter)
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Grand Forks' Monday City Council meeting was at times tense and at others deeply heartfelt as leaders, hearing comment after public comment, passed an "inclusion resolution" on a 7-0 vote.

The document has no legal effects and amounts to statement of values, favoring diversity and inclusion for a wide range of identities. But it made for a contentious evening that plumbed race relations and related matters in Grand Forks-with one resident calling the document "leftist virtue signaling," and another referencing Abraham Lincoln's remarks on our "better angels."

Running only about 250 words, the document calls Grand Forks an "inclusive community" that celebrates its diversity. A wide range of people "contribute to our democracy...regardless of race, ethnicity, country of origin, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, or veteran status," the document says, with further language standing "against hate and discrimination."

The final version is a redraft of language introduced last week by Council member Sandi Marshall. It pares down aggressive language, most notably from a paragraph that said those "promoting differentiation or superiority" on a range of identities are "scientifically false, morally condemnable, hateful, socially unjust and dangerous."

Multiple leaders had balked at the earlier version, citing complexity or overly broad language supporting "all members" of a community, regardless of criminal record. City Council member Danny Weigel noted concern for churches against gay marriage, while City Council President Dana Sande said some residents said the same. Would the city call them "hateful" too?

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As a result, city leaders heard on Monday evening from a third perspective: that city leaders' hesitation to pass the resolution in its original form was disheartening. A substantially similar document had passed in Fargo just months ago.

"I struggle to see the concern for churches and-or religious groups in Grand Forks who are anti-gay marriage when they themselves were included in the original language to be free from discrimination," said School Board member Katie Dachtler, who is Korean-American. She went on to explain the importance of passing such a resolution by explaining discomfiting moments she's faced as a member of a minority group.

"I am consciously reminded daily of who I am," she said. "Sometimes it's moving to Grand Forks and the bank teller informing you that you'll feel at home because there's a Panda Buffet. Sometimes it's pulling your children from your church's Christmas play because they didn't see the problem with yellow face...and sometimes it's looking at your City Council and not seeing a single face that mirrors your own as they decide what is and isn't important to people such as yourself."

Dachtler said after the meeting that, despite her membership on the School Board, she spoke only for herself.

The resolution's passage comes as racial and religious tensions make increasingly prevalent national headlines. Earlier this month, a travel ban promulgated by President Donald Trump's administration, criticized as a means to bar Muslim immigration, took effect as lower courts hear further arguments. In Grand Forks, arson at the Somali-owned Juba Cafe is still in recent memory.

Marshall said the resolution is more about building the Grand Forks community than responding to national news. She pointed to work already underway in the city to help welcome new Americans, and said it's that philosophy and fellow-feeling she wants to make official.

"I would say that we have a much better resolution as the result of more conversation about it," Marshall said. "I think that is the key to civil discourse. You open yourself up to looking critically at a statement such as this, and you listen to people-you really listen."

Weigel also pressed back against criticism that the revised document did not have enough input from minority groups, citing Hispanic and African-American members of his family.

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"To say that I don't understand-you're probably right, because I haven't lived it," he said. "But my family has."

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