Commentary: Change is coming and Dover, it’s time for us to listen

EDITOR’S NOTE: These comments were made at the close of the Dover City Council meeting Monday night.

By Tim Slavin

Earlier this evening, I voted against the proposed fiscal year 2021 budget. I did not do so lightly.

The budget presented to us is what we asked for – it is fiscally responsible, it holds the line on taxes, it addresses inequities in rate-paying for utilities. I commend Assistant City Manager Matt Harline, City Manager Donna Mitchell and all department heads for their assistance in giving council what we asked for.

Since we began the process of crafting the budget, our world has changed. More importantly, Dover is on the wave of real change. That change is not being driven by city government. That change is being driven by a new generation of voices.

Tim Slavin

My “no” vote on the budget is to acknowledge those voices and ensure that we continue the dialogue about race and equity in Dover.

We have seen and heard the demonstrations that have now been going on in our city for the past month and, in all likelihood, will continue. The voices are clear, and the message is simple: Black lives matter. We all need to say those words, publicly, without qualification. Black lives matter.

I have lived a life of white privilege. In my youth, I said and did things that were racist. There is no easy explanation, nor any excuse to make. I can say with all sincerity that the only way for me to describe those times in my life is that I was God-less. To this day, I remain embarrassed and anguished over my actions and pray for forgiveness.

But I am God-less no more. I have worked hard to eliminate racism and inequity in my personal life and in our society, but I can honestly stand before you and say that my efforts over the past 14 years on council were not good enough. I failed.

But I’m not done yet. I announced previously that I would not seek reelection to council in 2021, and, so, to the doubters, as I suggest the actions we should take as a city to combat racism and inequity, I am not pandering to would-be voters. I stand by my decision not to seek reelection. Dover is primed for a new generation of leaders.

We have heard the voices of that generation in our streets. And now, we must show them that we are listening.

To that end, I need your help. We can begin a process tonight by putting one foot in front of the other and taking steps together. Some of these steps will be big steps, and some will be small. All should be taken.

Chief Tom Johnson and Mayor Robin Christiansen: I need your help. More than six months ago, we had a presentation from the consulting firm that conducted a study on diversity and inclusion for the city of Dover. They cited that in their findings, our police department was facing challenges in attracting, hiring and retaining minority officers. We looked at the data and the processes, we discussed potential problems, and we talked about ways to address that. We also looked at a single image. The image was on our front page of the website for the city of Dover Police Department. The consultants strongly suggested that we look at the image we project to the community as perhaps one of the causes of our challenges. Today, many months later, that image remains on the front page. It is an image that is not reflective of our city and, Chief Johnson and Mayor Christiansen, I would ask that it be taken down immediately.

Councilman Ralph Taylor: I need your help. The time has come in our city for the citizens to have a voice in how we maintain a safe community. There are many models across our country for how citizens are empowered with a voice on how a community is policed. We need to have that dialogue, and our citizens need to have that voice. I will ask that you place this issue on your next Safety & Transportation Advisory Committee agenda, and I will forward a copy of a proposed ordinance I will sponsor.

Councilman David Anderson, Councilman Roy Sudler, and Mayor Christiansen: I need your help. When our good friend, Wallace Dixon, passed, I had the honor of sitting with Bishop Thomas Holsey at the service. Bishop Holsey and I talked about the long history of Black churches in Dover. He cited the work of Bishop L.T. Blackshear in not only running the church, but in providing so much for the Black community in Dover. Councilman Sudler, Mayor Christiansen and I then spoke separately about proposing the renaming of the New Street Playground in honor of Bishop Blackshear. Councilman Sudler: I am asking you to consider sponsoring that renaming, and Councilman Anderson, I am asking you to place the item on your next agenda for the Parks, Recreation and Community Enhancement Committee. Mayor Christiansen: I am asking for your support.

We have heard so many good ideas that we, quite frankly, have passed on as a city. Thanks to Councilman Tanner Polce, we were offered funding for embedding social workers with our police, as is being done in other municipalities in Delaware. We were politely turned down by the police department. Chief Johnson: I politely ask that we have that discussion again.

What I have heard in the protests and the new voices that are being heard and listened to is a simple message: The status quo will no longer suffice in how we all maintain a safe community. We know that we cannot arrest our way out of the opioid crisis. We cannot arrest our way out of the challenge of homelessness. We know we cannot arrest our way out of the issue of poverty.

But we can turn the corner, we can take small and big steps, and, most importantly, we can listen.

Tim Slavin is at-large councilman for the city of Dover.