Frisco looks inward in discussion on race, equity in Summit County

Protesters march on Frisco Main Street on Thursday, June 11.
Sawyer D’Argonne /

FRISCO — The town of Frisco is looking internally for ways to create a more inclusive community as conversations surrounding racial injustices and the Black Lives Matter movement continue both nationwide and here in Summit County.

Officials held a wide-ranging conversation into the topic during the most recent Frisco Town Council meeting Tuesday afternoon, June 23, seeking solutions to open up community dialogue, and examine how the town can change its own policies and take action to address concerns in the community.

“It’s a sad and trying time across the country and around the world,” said Mayor Hunter Mortensen. “And with what we’re seeing going on, I think its incumbent on us as leaders of our town and the representatives of the people — not just who live here, but visit us — to make sure we check in with our values and the way we conduct ourselves and our business.

“There is systematic racism throughout our country, and I hope it is not here. But this is how we find out if it is, by asking difficult questions and taking an inward look at who we are.”

Council Member Melissa Sherburne said that while events like the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis and local Black Lives Matter protests have created a sense of urgency to address community concerns, those issues aren’t necessarily new.

She pointed to recent provocative incidences like an individual flying a Confederate flag in the town’s Fourth of July parade last year, and a man wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood into the Dillon City Market last month — who Dillon police later informed he was no longer welcome in City Market locations — as “unthinkable” and urged her fellow council members to take action.

“We’ve been called upon through peaceful protests to examine our role in leading the charge against systematic racism,” Sherburne said. “… As an all-white town council, it’s important that we stand with people that suffer from injustice, and commit to creating the most inclusive community possible for other members of our community.”

Sherburne said ongoing discussions should be centered around three pillars: opening up dialogue with community members to get a better understanding of public concerns, examining town policy — including everything from marketing materials, hiring processes and police standards — and taking action through partnership with groups like the Government Alliance on Race & Equity that provide frameworks for local governments to achieve racial equity.

Council members were enthusiastic about jumping into the dialogue to pitch ideas and see what could be done, including inviting more collaboration and engagement with local minority communities, emphasizing race and language as important factors in decision making, and addressing specific goals and concerns from the public as they pop up.

Community members add to the conversation

Other community members also tuned in to the virtual hearing to share their thoughts on the conversation. Claudine Norden, a Frisco resident, said she’s experienced the lack of diversity in Frisco firsthand.

“A local business owner and I have connected, not because I shop (at her stores) or that we both work out at the Silverthorne Recreation Center, but because people mix us up all the time,” Norden said. “They think we’re the same person because we’re two Asian American females, even though we have totally different heritage.

“But I tell you this story to emphasize the lack of diversity in Frisco. … Town leadership hasn’t really had to prioritize diversity and inclusivity, and so it puts Frisco at this time in an ideal position to be proactive rather than reactive.”

Norden urged the council to look into existing evidence-based models for creating changes in communities, and to bring on cultural brokers to help train staff members and build strategic plans.

Kate Hudnut, president of the Summit School District Board of Education, lauded the council for taking steps, and pushed officials to look deeper into how subjects like housing, marketing, public communication and more are impacting diversity.

“We have 37% of our student body that are not white English speakers,” Hudnut said. “It’s a lot of English language learners, and a large percentage of the Latino community and the West African community. What are we doing with our decisions around housing, around how our budgets are spent, how we’re attracting tourists, what our communications are, what our marketing and imagery looks like? … I think that whole conversation would fall out of a really honest equity training.”

Frisco police discuss the Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity bill

While council members are dedicated to looking inward and determining what changes may be needed to be made inside the town government and beyond, the town’s police department also has changes on the horizon after the passage of the Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity bill, signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis last week.

The bill is meant to increase accountability and transparency among law enforcement officers statewide. It mandates that officers wear body cameras during calls for service or interactions initiated by police, and to release footage within 21 days. Footage can be redacted for specified privacy interests to protect witnesses and victims.

Additionally, the measure outlines new standards for reporting uses of force, and other data related to officer resignations and police stops. Officers found guilty of inappropriate use of force will have their POST certification permanently revoked, and citizens would be able to hold officers financially liable for their actions if their constitutional rights were violated. The bill also restricts what tactics police can use to disperse crowds, among other changes to standards.

Frisco Police Chief Tom Wickman discussed the new measures at the meeting, noting that his department recorded just five instances of use of force in all of 2019, and said his officers take steps to avoid violence whenever possible — pointing to an incident earlier this year when an officer was able to de-escalate a tense situation by physically disarming a suspect with a gun without anyone being injured.

Wickman noted he took offense at the decision to mandate body cameras.

“It’s insulting to me,” Wickman said. “I take an oath. We all take an oath of integrity and honor, and that’s how we serve this department.”

Though, he did seem on board with a number of other changes, noting that his department already records instances of use of force, and chokeholds have already been banned. He continued to say that officers potentially losing their POST certifications after violations, along with departments having to report officers who resign during investigations into violations, would help keep bad actors out of the profession.

Finally, Wickman said issues around police brutality are largely cultural, and that his office works diligently to make sure officers are well trained, and ready for the responsibility.  

“It’s a culture that’s one of the most misunderstood in the country I believe,” Wickman said. “Maybe it’s power, maybe they think they’re important because they have a badge. I can tell you that badge can be taken off real quick. The way we do it here is we talk to our officers all the time. As a chief I have to know everything that’s going on with these officers. …

“In terms of Senate Bill 217, it doesn’t matter what I think, it matters what I have to do. So we’re going to make do, and we’re going to continue on. The last thing is just treating everyone with respect, that’s all we’ve got to do.”

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