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Falls Mayor Robert Restaino has tapped 10 high-profile community leaders to serve on a newly formed city Social Justice Commission.

The mayor said the commission's work will begin immediately.

"None of (the commissioners) hesitated when I asked them to serve," Restaino said. "Each and everyone of them wanted to know what more they could do This is a very talented and accomplished group of commissioners."

Restano gave the commission an ambitious but flexible mandate to hold meetings during July and August and return recommendations to him by the end of August.

"I anticipate there will be a variety of work steps (that will result from the commission's work,)" the mayor said. 

In naming the 10 commissioners, Restaino said they will lead five subcommittees, each tasked with addressing a key component of the demands raised by recent protests seeking police reform and racial justice.

"In the city of Niagara Falls, my plan was not going to be limited simply to law enforcement," Restaino said, in response to the protests triggered by the death of Floyd George at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. 

The mayor said the task force will address the issues of law enforcement, health care, education, housing and employment.

City Administrator Anthony Restanio and Rev. Craig Pridgen, president of Niagara Falls Ministerial Council, will lead the subcommittee on law enforcement. 

"As a Black male, in this season, I am grateful that (the mayor) would ask me to take on one of the most challenging issues," Pridgen said. "This won't be an easy issue, but this is not solely a Black issue. This is a community issue."

The health care subcommittee  will be led by Dr. LaVonne Ansari, CEO of Community Health Center and Joseph Ruffolo, the president and CEO of Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center. 

"I'm sure we're not going to be surprised in terms of addressing the health care disparities in the community," Ruffolo said. "And we know these issues are all interconnected. We're not going to change the world overnight, but I do believe we can move the needle forward."

Father James Maher, the president of Niagara University and Mark Laurrie, superintendent of the Niagara Falls School District, will lead the education subcommittee. Restaino noted that in selecting Laurrie and Maher, he has two commissioners with experience from early childhood education through higher education.

"I think there are some obvious, yet long-standing policies that need to be looked at to find social justice," Laurrie said. "I'm not looking to spend money, cause we don't have it, but there are policies that holding us back."

The schools superintendent pointed to the use of standardized testing for college admissions, difficulty in obtaining financial assistance for higher education and even the idea that all students should go to college.

The commission will also look to address issues involving housing in the Falls with a subcommittee chaired by Robyn Krueger, the president and CEO of Community Missions and Clifford Scott, the executive director of the Niagara Falls Housing Authority.

"That issue, the housing piece, as well as some of the other issues are just so important," Scott said. "Housing is vital to all citizens. And we're happy to help in any way we can to bring some of these issues to the forefront."

Scott said he hopes to address the twin concerns of housing quality and affordability.

"Quality housing is a precursor to a better quality of life," Scott said. 

The commission's final subcommittee will address issues surrounding jobs and employment. It will be chaired by Dr. Rolanda Ward, the faculty director of Niagara University’s OSTAPENKO Center for Race, Equality and Mission, and Bishop Jesse Scott, president of Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope (NOAH).

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