Signal Hill City Council selects leading consultant for new diversity committee

Fred Abdelnour of DISC Solutions, leading consultant for Signal Hill’s new Diversity Coalition Committee

The Signal Hill City Council has taken its next step in forming Signal Hill’s new Diversity Coalition Committee (DCC) by hiring a facilitating consultant– Fred Abdelnour of DISC Solutions.

With its coordinator in place, the DCC can begin its mission of educating, facilitating and improving racially-just policing, affordable housing, and inclusive retailing and use of public spaces, according to Signal Hill’s Race and Equity Framework.

The city council had adopted the framework on July 28, following its July 14 resolution condemning systemic racism and upholding equality and inclusion. The resolution called for a new committee to “examine the current policies as it relates to City policing, City operations and City-related events.”

The resolution resulted from council discussions– sometimes heated– about its own potential systemic racism following the May 25 murder of Minneapolis resident George Floyd at the hands of that city’s police officers.

Those discussions were driven by Councilmember Edward Wilson, the only person of color on the five-member council, when residents wrote to accuse the council of denying Wilson the opportunity to serve as mayor in the March annual rotation because of his race.

See related story: Systemic racism and reorganization dominate Signal Hill City Council discussion

After the council adopted the resolution, the City received 22 applications from Signal Hill community members volunteering to serve on the DCC.

Scott Charney, Signal Hill’s deputy city-manager, described the candidates to the council during its Sept. 22 meeting as evenly split between those identifying as female and male.

Nine applicants identified as African American or Black; five as Asian, South Asian or Chinese American; four as Hispanic, Latino or Mexican American; two as mixed race; and two as white, Charney said.

However, he noted that the applicants’ diversity is not reflective of the city’s population in that 41% are Black compared to 11% of the city’s population. Conversely, 32% of the city’s population identify as white compared with 2% of DCC applicants.

See related story: 22 individuals apply to Signal Hill’s new diversity committee

City Manager Hannah Shin-Heydorn told the Signal Tribune this week that as far as she is aware, all 22 applicants are still interested in serving on the DCC, but she deferred sharing their names until newly appointed consultant Abdelnour could meet with them.

Abdelnour told the Signal Tribune that was indeed his first priority– to help the City decide whether all applicants would continue to be part of the committee.

“I would first want to meet with each of those candidates, have a dialogue with each of them,” he said. “That would be my next step.”

While he has no agenda or timeline for the committee after that, Abdelnour said he wants to begin with an open dialogue involving the entire community and create a plan from there.

“What I was hoping to do is have something like that done by the middle of November,” he said.

“And then have more open dialogues, with committee meetings in between.”

The open dialogues would be big meetings on Zoom, comparable to a city-council meeting, Abdelnour said.

“People can become aware of what’s happening, ask questions [and] express their thoughts,” he said. “The committee is the spearheading group representing the community, but we want to hear from the community, too.”

The DCC’s agenda moving forward depends on what the community voices, Abdelnour said.

“My expertise is in facilitating dialogue,” he said. “This is not me directing the strategies. I am a facilitator and a mediator/moderator. My job is to make sure that the community is heard.”

The council had voted unanimously on Oct. 13 to select Abdelnour as the committee’s facilitator for an initial two-year term with up to three possible one-year extensions, for $25,000 annually.

Abdelnour told the Signal Tribune he brings decades of experience in community relations and facilitation focusing on diversity and inclusion. The City received positive references on his behalf from two organizations that assist the under-represented, according to the Oct. 13 staff report– the Brotherhood Crusade serving South Los Angeles and the Urban League of San Diego County.

Abdelnour also used to live in Signal Hill and currently serves on the board of the Signal Hill Police Foundation’s (SHPF). The foundation seeks to bridge the community and Signal Hill Police Department (SHPD) through fundraising events such as a golf tournament on Nov. 2, organized by Abdelnour.

When the Signal Tribune asked Abdelnour if his involvement with SHPF might constitute a conflict of interest, Abdelnour said it would not.

But if someone complains to the DCC about SHPD behavior, Abdelnour said he would not become accusatory based on one incident. “I’m going to try to gather additional information to see if this is a systemic issue or a one-off issue […] and take steps from there,” he said.

If the issue is systemic, he and the DCC would compare it to standard police behavior and allow the City to decide what to do, Abdelnour said.

“Our job is to identify and communicate,” he said. “We’re not the ‘hired guns.’”

Abdelnour also said the DCC would communicate positive messages about the City to the community.

“We’re not there to clean up the city,” he said. “We’re there to make Signal Hill a better place to live, to work, to raise your children.”

Wilson, who was the primary voice behind the anti-racism resolution that led to the committee’s formation, told the Signal Tribune he was pleased with the council’s selection of Abdelnour to lead the DCC.

Wilson said he had a long conversation with the consultant prior to his selection about bias and perception because of the latter’s involvement with the SHPF.

Abdelnour assured Wilson he wants to facilitate ensuring all voices are heard, which Wilson said is the larger point.

“The Diversity Coalition Committee is more than just about the police department,” Wilson said.

“The police department is basically the face of authority to the public in Signal Hill. But I would like us to be addressing systemic racism throughout the city, not just the police department.”

Instead, Wilson– who is up for re-election to the council on Nov. 3– said he hopes the DCC will bring inclusivity for every person in Signal Hill, regardless of ethnicity, age or lifestyle.

“The Diversity Coalition Committee is more than just about ‘Black Lives Matter,’” Wilson said.

“It’s about everybody.”

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