Chestertown Human Rights Commission Could Begin Its Work in November

The Chestertown Council on Monday amended its anti-racism resolution, 03-2020, passed on Sept. 8 to require a Chestertown Human Rights Commission be established.

“No matter how we choose to negotiate the Human Rights Commission, the resolution says we have to have [a commission],” said Ward 3 Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver, the author of the resolution and the ordinance creating the commission.

Shortly after the resolution was amended, the Council voted unanimously to introduce Chestertown Human Rights Commission Ordinance, 06-2020. 

Final passage of the amended resolution settled concerns that Mayor Cerino and the other three council members voiced about original language in Section 5 that gave the Commission authority to investigate and resolve allegations of discrimination in areas of housing and employment in Chestertown.

“The Human Rights Commission will be empowered to investigate and resolve allegations of discrimination in employment, housing, by town agencies and by businesses,” said Section 5 of the resolution as originally presented at the Sept. 8 meeting. 

Mayor Chris Cerino said at the Sept. 8 meeting that authorizing private citizens to investigate other private citizens was “a disaster waiting to happen.”  He further questioned whether town government had the authority to allow untrained private citizens to investigate allegations of discrimination.

Council members Meghan Efland, Davis Foster and Tom Herz echoed Cerino’s concerns and subsequently Ellsworth introduced a revision to Section 5 of the resolution at the Sept. 21 meeting — that removed the investigative powers of the Commission.

Instead, Section 5 was replaced with language that would allow for a Commission to make recommendations after hearing complaints of discrimination:

“Human Rights Commission to be empowered as an independent board with the task of gathering information for review, analyze data and make necessary recommendations toward the effort of resolving allegations of discrimination in employment, housing, education, recreation and others human relation areas by Town agencies and by businesses.”

But the other three council members and Cerino made objections to the Commission being “independent” of the Mayor and Council.

“There is no other commission we have that is independent of the Mayor and Council,” Cerino said at the Sept. 21 meeting. Cerino said a commission couldn’t be independent of the town while at the same time being a voice of town government.

In a compromise on Monday the council revised Section 5 again and struck four words that made the commission an independent board.

“Human Rights Commission to be empowered as an independent board with the task of gathering information for review, analyze data and make necessary recommendations toward the effort of resolving allegations of discrimination in employment, housing, education, recreation and others human relation areas by Town agencies and by businesses.”

The Council will hold a public hearing on Nov. 2 to discuss the ordinance and any concerns the council and residents may have about the structure and duties of the Commission. Though not required, Tolliver requested the public hearing to give council members and the public a chance to comment on the duties of the commission.

If the ordinance is adopted at the Nov. 2 meeting it would become law and take effect 21 days later.

In the initial formation of the commission, the council would select an interim chair and vice chair, who would then select the first seven members, of which four would have to be People of Color. The names would then go to the Town Council for approval. Once the town Council approves the seven members, the seven members would elect a chair and vice chair to serve one-year terms.  The other members would serve three-year terms. The Commission would then be free to establish its own rules and regulations.

The ordinance would empower the commission to:

A. Conduct public meetings and survey current practices and conditions relating to the treatment of citizens in areas of public accommodations, employment, housing, recreation, education and other human rights areas;

B. Conduct programs for the purpose of informing the general public regarding matters of human rights and of bettering human rights within the community; Accept complaints relating to discrimination and refer the complaints to appropriate authorities;

C. Make recommendations to appropriate authorities and propose legislation with regard to human rights practices and conditions;

D. Accept complaints relating to discrimination and refer the complaints to appropriate authorities

E. Act as a mediator to resolve disagreements in matters of human rights if the parties so desire, or to refer to a local mediation group if the parties prefer;

F. Coordinate activities with and utilize the resources of other public and private human rights bodies;

G. Issue an annual report of its activities and on the status of the Town’s racial justice and equity.

H. Perform other duties and functions as may be specified by the Town Council from time to time.

 

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