One of the outcomes of this morning's closed meeting between local leaders of the African-American community and U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn is that the congressman has announced that he will be forming an advisory board:
Today’s meeting is a valuable opportunity for me to hear from constituents. I am constantly looking for ways to do an even better job of representing the good people of the 5th Congressional District in Washington. Having a board of community leaders to advise me will hopefully give me an even better perspective on issues of concern to the minority community.
Rosemary Harris Lytle, of the NAACP and ACLU, was at the meeting, and says that her understanding is that the board would deal with issues within the minority community. She says that she and Rev. James McMearn, of New Jerusalem Baptist Church, were invited by Lamborn himself to sit on the board.
"My reaction to that was that it is a positive step," Lytle says. "But I would encourage the congressman to consider people of color, and a wider diversity in general when making appointments to committees and boards and positions that are not directly related to quote-unquote minority affairs. Being more inclusive across the board."
None of the details surrounding the board have been finalized, says Catherine Mortensen, spokesperson for Lamborn's office.
"The congressman had been thinking about it prior to it, but after meeting with the leaders, he decided that's what he wanted to do," she says. She points out that he has advisory boards in other counties, on which sit city council members, county commissioners and other leaders within the community.
She adds that the board won't be focused specifically on minority issues, and that who will be invited has yet to be decided upon.
The meeting — prompted largely by anger over Lamborn analogizing President Obama to a "tar baby" — yielded many ideas about how the congressman can better reach out to the minority communities, Lytle says. One was that the congressman ought to go through diversity sensitivity training.
"That he would pursue that for himself," she says, adding that Lamborn said that he would consider it.
Another was that there be a new satellite office on the south portion of his district, "so that's not just up by Chapel Hills, but maybe ... on a bus route where seniors and people of differing abilities could access the congressman and his staff easier."
It was suggested that the office could be in Citadel Mall, or somewhere near there.
Mortensen says that she thinks that the option of a satellite office is pretty unrealistic, but did state that Lamborn moved into his new office in 2009, and wasn't opposed to moving again. She said that they would have to check on his lease agreement.
"I know that the congressman is open to all suggestions like that," she says. "He's moved before, and I'm sure he would be open to that."
Another suggestion was that he hold ongoing conversations, through the advisory board, at town halls or at community gatherings, Lytle says, "as most of the people in the room said that they had never met with their congressman before, or seen him in the district. ... He admitted that himself, that perhaps he has not been as accessible to all of his constituents as he should have been, and that he would be making changes."
Lytle couldn't help but notice, too, that Lamborn's staff members who were present at the meeting were "homogenous" — that they were all white.
When asked about this point, Mortensen notes that her maiden name is Martinez — Mortensen is her married name — so Lamborn does have at least one Hispanic among his senior staff. "And that's me."