C'ville City Council Approves Human Rights Commission

May 21, 2013

Charlottesville City Council approved a Human Rights Commission Monday night in a 3-to-1 vote.

Mayor Satyendra Huja abstained from voting. Council member Kathy Galvin voted against the commission while council members Dave Norris, Dede Smith and Kristin Szakos voted for it.

The vote comes after months of discussions and adjustments to the original ordinance proposed back in February. The revised ordinance outlines the four main duties of the commission as follows:

1. Systemic and Institutional Change
2. Service Coordination and Awareness
3. Community Dialogue and Engagement
4. Investigation and Enforcement

"It is envisioned that this would be a partnership," said assistant city manager David Ellis. "The Human Rights Commission would work with institutions to identify barriers, to identify policies that may have caused disparity between different groups of people."

The commission will have limited local enforcement when it comes to discrimination claims against employers.

"The city staff would investigate employment discrimination complaints only for discharges in companies that employ between six and 14 people," said Ellis.

Cases involving 15 or more employees will be directed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Piedmont Housing Alliance.

The cost of the commission was originally set at $180,000, which council already approved as part of the fiscal year 2014 budget. However, an additional $17,000 was added to the cost to cover mediation.

Ellis says they are expecting approximately 17 cases that will need mediation, at a cost of $1,000 each.

During public comment before the vote, Charlottesville resident Marvin Joyner spoke out against the price tag.

"$197,000? I'm a tax payer. All of you are tax payers. We've got a lot of other things," said Joyner. "I thought Charlottesville was a leading city, and I don't think a leading city needs a human rights commission."

Others in favor of the commission told council members it would be an asset to the community.

"We need this commission. It has to have enforcement powers and it must include all people. You have an opportunity to improve our lives, to relieve our fears," Charlottesville resident Melanie Miller told council.

Council members made a few adjustments to the ordinance before voting, mainly dealing with wording.

After the vote officially approving the commission, Szakos said, "I think what we've just done is incredibly important."

Galvin said the next step should be making sure the community fully understands the ordinance.

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