Last year’s bold move by the Mary Riley Styles Public Library in Falls Church to eliminate fines for overdue materials is the biggest step cited so far in the City of Falls Church’s comprehensive “Equity Review” that was engaged by the City Council at its work session last Monday.
The meeting was notable for being the first in-person gathering of the City Council at City Hall since the Covid-19 pandemic struck in March 2020. In person meetings of the Council and other key City bodies will proceed henceforth, with attendees required to wear masks and sit six feet apart for the time being.
Monday’s review was the first comprehensive look by the Council at what it had requested from all City boards and commissions this last March. Then, a memo was sent out to all City boards and commission members asking to “bring to life” reviews of “duties and goals to ensure that the City is equitably serving the needs of all” with an aim at recommending policy changes and prioritization of work to “more effectively achieve the goal of equitably serving our entire community.”
In the memo sent from City Hall on March 1, 2021, it was suggested that all City boards and commissions ask the following questions in an internal review:
“Does a policy or work have an equal impact among all that we serve?
“Does it benefit those under stress?
“Does it reduce current community disparities?
“Does it correct organizational inequalities that developed over time?”
The memo cited the library fines case, stating that “a recent change to library policy is a good example of a board considering equity in services, communicating a need to the City Council, and changing a policy to provide more equitable service to all.”
In the library fines case, the memo noted, research determined that late fines for overdue items “were disproportionately borne by low-income users” and “it was ultimately determined that the public would be better and more equitably served by eliminating these fees.”
So, a memo has been added to the City’s website for the library stating, “In an effort to remove barriers to service, we will no longer charge fines for overdue materials…All previously assessed fines for overdue materials will also be forgiven.”
At Monday’s meeting, City Manager Wyatt Shields offered a brief review of some of the 60 pages of suggestions from the boards and commissions that, he said, function like forms of think tanks for the City government. Three summary areas, he said, relate to funding, program designs and policy reforms.
Of them, Council member Letty Hardi suggested that timely priorities include a change to the City Charter to allow non-residents to serve on boards and commissions and occupy City affordable dwelling units.
She also proposed a stand-alone new City commission focused on racial justice.
Shields summarized the work of the City Police Department’s Use of Force Review Committee, in which over 800 citizen responses focused on the need for more training in the area of mental health, and the now widely advocated body cams. They also are advocating for youth “restorative justice” programs to avoid the criminal justice system.
The mental health training, Shields said, could have saved lives in recent months. He also cited a 21-day “equity habits building” program for City employees.
Shields noted the Arts and Humanities Council’s eagerness to develop murals with matching grants, the achievement of civil rights “history panels” to placement on S. Washington, and to review the art on display at City Hall.
The Citizens Advisory Council on Transportation focused on walkability issues and a review of bus shelters for their highest use.
The Housing Commission suggested the formation of a housing panel with equal representation from stand-alone home owners, rental tenants and the homeless.
The Historical Commission suggested a review of street and location place names.
The Human Services Advisory Council is proposing a community-wide racial equity workshop.
The Library Board proposed in addition to eliminating fines , no chares for use of copiers.
The Planning Commission is proposing a speaker series on land use and special exceptions.
The Recreation and Parks board is proposing scholarships for its camps and hobby groups and a review of handicap accessibility to parks.
The Retirement Board proposes a review of benefits programs and investment opportunities.
The Storm Water Task Force suggests a review of priorities of citizen submission of complaints.
The Urban Forestry Commission proposes a review of accessibility of all citizens to parks.