BERNARDS TWP., NJ _ After three public discussions and some offline revisions conducted by two Township Committee members, the Bernards Township Committee has unanimously approved a diversity and inclusion committee.
"Bernards Township believes in the inherent dignity and worth of each human being and that our community can become even stronger, more cohesive and more interesting by embracing its diversity and capitalizing on the strength resulting from that diversity," the resolution states.
It adds, "Bernards Township believes learning about our differences can bring people closer together, allow us to recognize how much we have in common as human beings, and further advance and enhance the mutual respect, hospitality and warmth of our community." The approved committee is designed to have 11 members, to formally meet monthly, and to report twice a year to the Township Committee.
The topic has stirred up much public comment. Additional suggestions were made at Tuesday's Bernards Township Committee meeting even as the proposed resolution was about to be voted upon, including setting up a way to examine biases.
Township Committeewoman Joan Harris, who had proposed a version of the resolution early this summer, said that a similar proposal was first suggested 20 years ago by Captain Robert Terry, was a flight instructor from Basking Ridge for the Tuskegee Airmen from 1941 to 1945. She said she was further encouraged by another measure in Bernardsville.
After a number of revisions were mentioned at the meeting, Harris noted, "We'll never get this perfect."
She added she had enjoyed working on the resolution with Township Committeeman John Carpenter, who took a somewhat different view about the resolution.
Carpenter said he doesn't envision the committee as a place where people can go to air grievances. "This is a venue for people to learn more about their neighbors."
"I am happy we are doing it _ it's going to bring the community together and it's really a positive," said Township Committeewoman Janice Fields.
Tuesday's discussion brought up some old wounds, with dispute over how the idea for a diversity committee had originated.
Harris did bristle at a suggestion raised at the meeting that the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge had been responsible for pushing the agenda for the new committee. She said 400 people had signed a petition in favor of the committee.
"I would like to push back on the notions that this is being peddled by the ISBR," said Siddharth Sasanne, a supporter of the resolution, adding he is not a member of the ISBR.
Later in the week, Mayor James Baldassare said the committee is pleased to have worked out "a good starting point for our diversity and inclusion committee. "We are looking forward to establishing the same and getting this up and running as soon as practicable," he said in an email.
"Anyone interested in serving on this committee should visit the Bernards Township website at www.bernards.org and complete a "Tap The Talent" form to be considered" for the committee, he said. The members to serve on the committee will be made by the Township Committee members going forward, he added.
Bernards Township believes it is best to explore these topics in an open, positive environment.
The duties of the Community Engagement Committee shall be:
(a) To advise the Township Committee, at least twice annually, on opportunities tocontinue to promote and build on harmony among all Township residents;
(b) To further advise on ways to encourage goodwill, cooperation, and unity among the diverse residents of the Township;
(c) To recommend educational and cultural programs to foster unity and develop a sense of community; and
(d) Such other duties as shall be suggested and approved by the Township Committee.
Membership and qualifications to the Committee may include, but not be limited to: a representative from the Township Committee; the Bernards Township Police Department; the local school district administration; a representative of local religious groups; and a representative with significant knowledge of diversity and inclusion training or facilitation.