Jul 242007
Authors: Erik Myers

Following last winter’s controversy surrounding holiday displays, Fort Collins City Council has approved the creation of a new “citizen task force” to review the city’s ban of religious symbols on public property.

The council voted unanimously last Tuesday to charge 20 representatives, which will be hand-picked by the city manager, to review the policy and report back to the city by fall.

The council’s recent vote does not parallel their sentiment last holiday season, when council members nixed an attempt by local Rabbi Yerachmiel Gorelik to include menorahs in holiday displays on public property.

The decision sparked backlash across the religious community, as Christmas trees and Santa Claus images remained allowed on public displays, declared as secular symbols by council members.

Council member Diggs Brown was among those who voted against the menorah, but says his opinion has since shifted since he attended last winter’s menorah lighting in Old Town Square.

“It was a sort of moment of clarity,” he said. “Sort of like, ‘Wow, this is what we were voting against?'”

July might seem an unusual time for holiday discussion, but Mayor Tom Hutchinson finds it more appropriate. Hutchinson said last winter’s questioning of the policy came too soon to the holiday season for the city to make a final decision, and that it took several newly elected council members for the task force’s formation.

Hutchinson said he pursued the idea of a task force since last December’s vote, fueled by the belief that the council’s current policy damaged the city’s image.

“The truly great cities are inclusionary,” Hutchinson said. “I fundamentally believe that (Fort Collins is), and I think that’s been the problem with having a policy that was quite narrow.”

Following the selection process, task force members will meet weekly to review the city’s current holiday policy, and then discuss possible changes to be made. The task force will submit what will likely be a written report no later than October 31. Though there has been no decision made as to exactly where and when meetings will take place. All of the meetings will be open to the public.

A notice was sent out to local religious organizations, businesses and non-profit organizations, seeking representatives for the task force. The deadline for the city to receive applications is August 1.

Representatives will be selected by City Manager Darin Atteberry, and will allow only one representative per organization.

Tess Heffernan, the task force facilitator, says there aren’t any specific criteria upon which representatives will be selected, but that the selected representatives would be diverse as possible.

“If we have way over 20 people apply, hopefully we’ll have enough diversity that we can base it on when you applied and what you represent, so we have a good balance on the task force.” Heffernan said.

Heffernan said several organizations have already applied, including a number of groups from the non-profit sector. No representatives have selected.

Staff writer Erik Myers can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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