SHREWSBURY – After receiving a 38-page report from the town’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force, the Shrewsbury Board of Selectmen weighed its next steps at a Dec. 14 meeting
The Board of Selectmen has reached out to consultants since it received the report.
Chair John Samia said on Dec. 14 the board was waiting on a cost estimate from one consultant and an assessment of the scope of work from another.
Samia said the consultants were booked through 2021, but they had availability in 2022. He saw the process as concurrent with Shrewsbury’s ongoing work on a strategic plan.
His expectation was that the selectmen would move forward in early January.
Throughout the meeting Dec. 14, the selectmen discussed next steps, like engaging with a consultant and forming a permanent committee.
“I just don’t want too much time to pass before we really get started on this,” Selectman Beth Casavant said.
Selectman Maurice DePalo voiced his support for working with a consultant and tying the work into the strategic plan. The selectmen need to decide whether to take such a step with a consultant, he said.
“Maybe we could do some preliminary background work before that, but I would be inclined not to do too much until we’ve talked to the consultant and get their advice in a formal way that we haven’t gotten yet so we can start and get this thing done correctly from the beginning and not have to go back and redo something in the process,” he said.
Selectman Theresa Flynn said she wasn’t opposed to using a consultant to “bounce ideas off of.”
“I agree that we can drive the process in terms of establishing the committee, but I think it’s important to the town and community that we’re clear about what we intend the committee to do,” she said.
Casavant said she saw the rationale for having a consultant help implement the recommendations in the final report.
“I guess my concern is that the more time that passes, I think the less goodwill we’re going to have from the community that we’re acting expeditiously on this,” Casavant said.
“I understand what both of my colleagues are saying, but speed is not necessarily the best way to move forward,” DePalo said.
When forming the task force, the selectmen learned they didn’t have as much knowledge to put it together, he said. The consultant can help guide the selectmen, he continued.
“I do not see the value of setting up a committee before this board has a good sense of really what we want done,” DePalo said.
Flynn countered that the committee would help the selectmen determine the path forward, which she said is the intent.
“We’re not going to know everything that we’re going to do. I think that this committee would engage with us to help us decide what the path forward is with DEI in Shrewsbury,” Flynn said.
Casavant, who served on the task force, said she felt the community had provided input from how the task force was structured.
She expressed concerns about a possible situation with the five selectmen in a room with a consultant and none of the stakeholders from the task force.
“To me, we’re still trying to determine what’s best in an arena where we have all admitted we’re not comfortable and we don’t know what’s best,” she said. “I’m just not able to square how we don’t somehow connect the people who have worked on the task force … or others who might have some background and experience in this area, even in their professional life, and look to those people in an advisory capacity as we work to form this committee.”
Samia said the selectmen have an end goal, but the board was grappling with how to get there. The consultants have experience in implementing measures in other communities, and they will be an objective voice to help the board move forward, he said.
“It’s actually good that we don’t have the answers now, but that is what, I think, a consultant [will] provide because no one has done this before in this community,” he said.
Both DePalo and Flynn expressed interest in having a path forward by their last meeting in January.
“I think we do need several weeks to look at what other towns are doing and what best practices are and see if there are others we want to get input from, whether it’s a consultant or other experts,” Flynn said.