The Riverside Village Board on Sept. 21 voted to affirm the village is a place that supports diversity and inclusion. By the barest of margins.

Officially, the 257-word resolution passed without dissent, but only trustees Doug Pollock, Joseph Ballerine and Elizabeth Peters – one short of a majority – voted affirmatively for the resolution.

Trustees Wendell Jisa, Scott Lumsden and Michael Sedivy abstained. But, according to Village Attorney Lance Malina, absent a conflict, Illinois law calls for counting abstentions with the prevailing side. 

Village President Ben Sells, said he would have voted in favor of the resolution, which he admitted authoring, if it had come to needing a majority vote.

Trustees who abstained from voting had different reasons for doing so. 

Sedivy said his understanding of the resolution was that it was related to economic development, based on the language of a memo introducing the resolution in the village board’s meeting packet.

The memo states the resolution is a part of the village’s effort to “realize and expand on the economic development recommendations” of the village’s comprehensive plan. The resolution itself talks about creating “a beautiful environment that encourages civic interaction and social discourse among residents and visitors alike.”

His abstention, which Sedivy technically never voiced, appeared based largely on the failure of the board to seek input from the Economic Development Commission on something related to the village’s economic development efforts.

Lumsden said he didn’t believe the village board needed to pass such a resolution, because it wasn’t needed.

“I think it’s a waste of time, resources and assets to write resolutions like this that aren’t actionable,” Lumsden said. “I think our village is incredibly inclusive, and we have to, by law, by state, honor all diversification in business and employment.”

He also questioned how much attorney and staff time went into preparing the resolution. Sells responded that no staff or attorney time was involved, since he wrote the resolution.

Jisa’s reasoning for abstaining appeared counterintuitive, reaffirming his decision to not cast a vote on the resolution because he wanted Riverside to challenge itself to be more inclusive.

“One of the reasons I wanted to join the board is because I didn’t feel like Riverside was an incredibly inclusive community,” said Jisa, who pointed out his wife is Hispanic. “People … that I have known for decades would say things around me, would do things around me, that offended me and would have offended my wife or my in-laws or my friends.”

Jisa pointed to the reaction that resulted from the placement of a rainbow banner placed in Guthrie Park in June during Gay Pride as an example of how far Riverside had to go with respect to inclusion.

“I want Riverside to be more inclusive,” Jisa said. “I think that as a community we have to challenge ourselves to be more accepting.”

Sells, too, pointed to recent instances of racist graffiti being found in a bathroom at Riverside-Brookfield High School and of a swastika scrawled on the home being built for a non-white family as reasons why the resolution mattered.

“I would like to think that we don’t have any diversity issues in this town,” Sells said. “If this is, what you say, something that we all agree with and know is true, then I find it hard to believe that we wouldn’t want to actually say to the broader world that Riverside is a place that honors diversity, that we want to be an inclusive community, that we welcome people to come here.”

The resolution that passed the board is fairly simple in its scope, one that “celebrates and encourages diversity and a spirit of inclusion among its residents and visitors.” It does not broach the subject of immigration, which other neighboring communities such as Oak Park, Forest Park, River Forest and Berwyn included in welcoming ordinances.

Those laws, for example, specifically state that local authorities would not recognize immigration detainers or non-judicial detainer warrants issued by federal immigration authorities or detain anyone purely because of citizenship or immigration status.

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