EASTHAMPTON — When Homar Gomez was elected to serve on the City Council, representing Precinct 2 in Easthampton, he thought he might receive some immediate training on the practices and procedures of city government. But he didn’t.
Now, Gomez, who is the first Latino elected to serve on the council as well as its first Latino president, is hoping to provide a little more guidance to those interested in serving on local boards and committees.
“When I got elected four years ago, I was expecting that someone was going to teach me something,” Gomez said. “Instead, you kind of have to just jump in.”
Fortunately, Gomez turned to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials or NALEO Educational Fund for guidance. NALEO is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that’s headquartered in Los Angeles and facilitates full Latino participation in the American political process, from citizenship to public service.
“We never train the chairperson of any committee. We never give any training on how to run the meetings or what to do in meetings,” Gomez said. “As council president, one of my goals with the Appointment Committee is to try and create something that people can follow along to. … I think we should create a video or documentation that will teach the chairs and provide better guidance on how a meeting should run.”
By providing education on procedures and practices, Gomez hopes to give constituents a better understanding of the city’s boards and committees, and as a result hopefully increase community engagement and involvement. Another area Gomez feels will help him reach those goals is tackling the council’s meeting agenda.
“The agenda is not that easy to read. It’s not,” said Gomez, admitting that he struggled to understand it when he was first elected. “What I want to see in the future is to see that every single agenda and meeting is easy to understand.”
One way to make the agenda more readable is choosing an order to the business conducted, he said. Gomez plans on working with the city’s Rules and Government Relations Committee to review rules as they pertain to the agenda and “stick to them.”
“Sports have rules. Households have rules. Everybody has rules and we are not the exception. We do have rules. As a coach, I see the council president in the same role. I want to follow the rules,” he said.
During the city’s Finance Committee meetings, for example, department heads and committee members speak in a “language” that is hard to comprehend. On many occasions, Gomez has requested additional explanation in a way that more people can understand. By explaining areas a little more, he said he hopes to increase transparency, understanding and inclusivity while lessening the intimidation factor.
“Sometimes it’s intimidating. You go to committees and you don’t know when you should talk and you don’t know how you should talk. And I think it should be easy to do both,” he said. ” We want to make it easier and more comfortable for people to apply to serve on committees. Sometimes we forget that the majority of people that serve on these committees are volunteers, so making the process harder for them isn’t welcoming. We should be welcoming people to participate in the process.”
He noted that one area the council has already improved with the Appointment Committee — with the help of Council Member At-Large Lindsey M. Rothschild — is the interview process of applicants, which now features standard questions for all.
Moving forward, albeit an ambitious endeavor, Gomez is attempting to attend at least one meeting for every single board and committee in the city in an effort to to increase his own understanding of each one. Ultimately, he wants to broaden accessibility and understanding of local government for all, especially those who speak different languages as well as those with disabilities.
Gomez, a native of Puerto Rico who works at a funeral home and as a varsity softball coach at Easthampton High School, entered politics as a way to bring a voice to the council that was never there before. Over the past four years, he’s faced some discrimination from folks in and around the city. He said some have heard his strong Spanish accent and think of him as stupid.
In his new role as council president, Gomez said he will continue to hold his heritage and love for Easthampton and hopes to adopt a relationship with the community to make it a place that’s welcoming to all.
“I love this place. I choose to move here. I choose to pay taxes here. I choose this town to bring my girls to be educated. I love my community. I think it’s really important for them to feel comfortable here,” he said. “I want to have that relationship with the community that everyone feels that the doors are open for them. I want everyone to feel comfortable to say whatever they want to say — even if I disagree. I hope everyone will be comfortable enough to come forward and say it.”
Emily Thurlow can be reached at [email protected]