Leaders in Milton-Freewater are considering spinning off an idea used by Hermiston on the other side of Umatilla County to increase Hispanic participation in city government.
Two members of Hermiston’s Hispanic Advisory Committee met with Milton-Freewater city officials June 8 to discuss starting a similar committee there.
Umatilla County Commissioner Bill Elfering said he asked committee member Eddie de la Cruz and former Hermiston City Councilor George Anderson to give a presentation on Hermiston’s committee after Milton-Freewater officials expressed interest in increasing civic participation from its sizable Hispanic population.
Milton-Freewater City Manager Linda Hall said it’s still too early to determine whether the city will start a committee or not, as the idea still needs to be discussed at a city council level.
Hall said the city has made numerous attempts to broaden its cultural appeal, including hosting a Cinco de Mayo festival, establishing a valley cultural awareness committee in the 1990s and co-sponsoring “MILTON,” a bilingual play with Hispanic actors that toured through several Miltons across the country.
Still, Hall said a Hispanic advisory committee is an idea worth exploring.
“Anybody who says there’s no room for improvement in government operations is crazy,” she said.
At 43.1 percent of the population, Milton-Freewater is tied with Umatilla for the highest share of Latinos in Umatilla County. Hermiston’s Hispanic population is 34.9 percent.
While Hall said the Milton-Freewater Downtown Alliance and the Milton-Freewater Unified School District have had success in engaging Hispanics, no Latinos currently serve on the city council or the school board.
De la Cruz said Hermiston’s Hispanic advisory committee succeeds because it has “110 percent” support from the city government.
The committee has been successful in turning advocacy into policy, from organizing Cinco de Mayo events and soccer tournaments to establishing the Umatilla Morrow Hispanic Scholarship Foundation.
Additionally, members have used the committee as a stepping stone to get more involved in local politics, including Clara Beas Fitzgerald, who was elected to the Hermiston City Council in 2014 and de la Cruz, who was voted onto the Blue Mountain Community College Board of Education last year.
The Hermiston Hispanic Advisory Committee was exemplified by the National League of Cities, which awarded it with the City Cultural Diversity Award in 2013.
De la Cruz thinks Hermiston’s model could work in Milton-Freewater and beyond.
“My dream is that we establish HACs in every city in Oregon with a high Latino population,” he said.
Contact Antonio Sierra at email@example.com or 541-966-0836.