Hudson City Council debates use of logo on flier announcing book discussion

Legislators disagree on whether city was endorsing 'White Fragility'; ask City Manager to seek their approval for future use of logo

Phil Keren
Kent Weeklies
Hudson City Council on Aug. 25 discussed the use of the city's logo on a flier announcing a community reading  event for the book "White Fragility." Some council members felt the city, through the use of the logo, was endorsing the book, while others felt the discussion of combatting racism was being endorsed.

HUDSON — The placement of the city's logo on a flier announcing a book discussion prompted a debate at council and ended with legislators requesting that the city manager seek their approval before using the logo in conjunction with issues and other endeavors.

The Hudson Diversity Equity and Inclusion Task Force is an independent group that was formed earlier this year by students, parents and educators. The organization says it is taking a proactive, anti-racist approach to promoting an environment of diversity, equity, and inclusion. One part of the group's work is an upcoming community reading event discussing the book "White Fragility," by Robin DiAngelo.

A flier announcing the event and listing information about the book was recently distributed.

At the bottom of the flier are the logos of: the city of Hudson; the Hudson City School District; the Hudson Library & Historical Society; and some other local groups.

This flier announces a community book read for the book "White Fragility" by Robin DiAngelo. Some members of Hudson City Council were concerned about the city's logo appearing on the flier. They felt it appeared the city was endorsing the book. Other members of council felt the city was endorsing the planned discussion about diversity, equity and inclusion.

Council member Chris Foster (Ward 2) requested a discussion at the Aug. 25 workshop after residents asked him whether council had endorsed the book. Foster said he also wanted to discuss whether council should endorse ballot issues such as a school levy.

All councilors agreed the city should be involved with discussions about racism, but differed on whether the city's use of the logo on the flier was an endorsement of the book or an endorsement of a discussion. While council did not want City Manager Jane Howington to remove the logo, members asked that she seek their approval before using the logo on future endeavors. Howington agreed to do that.

Foster said council passed a resolution condemning racism in June and noted he believed intent was for the city to do things such as implementing sensitivity training for employees. He noted he pushed to have the city buy police body cameras earlier than planned.

Foster, who said he's read the book and will participate in the community discussion, added he felt the flier with the logo on it "looked very much like an endorsement."

He emphasized, "we all need to be on the same page as to where the logo is going."

Council member Kate Schlademan (Ward 1), who sponsored the racism resolution said the resolution was connected to endorsing a discussion about the issues of systemic racism.

"It's not endorsing the book," said Schlademan. "It's endorsing the dialogue."

At the start of the year, Schlademan said council instructed Howington to "develop strong working relationships in the community."

Schlademan said that having the city involved with the book discussion was an example of Howington applying that council directive.

 "We're trying to build a community with multiple community organizations," said Schlademan.

Howington said the city worked with other groups listed on the flier to complement the various task force initiatives.

"This whole group said they wanted to have everybody's logo on the introduction to dialogue as a first step," said Howington. "Not because it was an endorsement of a book or it was an endorsement of a belief. It was an endorsement of a community grass-roots effort that to my mind was in keeping with the resolution to engage dialogue with community."

Council member Beth Bigham (Ward 4) said she felt the flier with the logo makes "it look like we're endorsing a book."

She added she did not feel city leaders had the authority to endorse a book or an issue on behalf of council without first consulting all of council.

Council member Hal DeSaussure (At Large) offered a different view.

"There is no way, unless you're looking at this from a very one-sided point of view, that you could view this as an endorsement of the book," said DeSaussure.

He said council's resolution directed city staff to engage with the community on issues of systemic racism.

"The city manager is doing exactly that," said DeSaussure.

He added the flier is "not compelling anybody to do anything. It's not compelling anybody to believe a certain thing. It's asking people to be engaged."

Council member Skylar Sutton (Ward 3) disagreed, and noted, "it really, honestly did feel like those groups were endorsing that particular book."

Sutton said discussion about systemic racism is "vital,"  but noted the flier "comes off more as steering the discussion and when you couple that with all the logos… it puts out the vibe that those groups are interested in steering the discussion a certain way."

While noting the groups may not have intended for the flier to be viewed that way, Sutton said he and other residents viewed it as such.

Wooldredge said he supported dialogue on the issue and reading the book, but added, "There are times when maybe we should endorse something, but I don't know that we would want to get involved in that here."

Mayor Craig Shubert noted opinions are mixed in the community about the book discussion.

"There are people … who think this book read is a great idea and there are people who absolutely hate it," said Shubert. "They interpret it as a promotion for a book sale." 

He added he felt the administration should obtain the approval of a majority of council before using the city logo, but noted he believed such use should be limited to governmental functions.

Wooldredge said he wanted the administration to come to council before using the logo in connection with an issue.

Discussion on endorsing issues

Councilors also weighed in on having council endorse ballot issues such as a school levy. Foster noted he does not support the council as a body backing those issues, but added he felt council members individually can support such issues.

DeSaussure said he's "uncomfortable" having council endorse non-city issues. He noted council has previously endorsed school levies, and said while council can discuss whether it wants to still do that, he did not feel they could bind future councils on the practice.

Sutton said he did not feel council should endorse any issue, noting it was not the reason they were elected.

Wooldredge suggested council continue an ongoing of practice of discussing whether it wanted to endorse a ballot issue.

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at pkeren@recordpub.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.