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Alternative Charlottesville Human Rights Ordinance on the Table - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Alternative Charlottesville Human Rights Ordinance on the Table

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Charlottesville City Councilor Dave Norris is proposing an alternative to a controversial plan that would create a human rights commission to investigate cases of discrimination in the city.  Council will get its first look at the new approach Monday night.

Norris says disagreement over the proposed human rights ordinance (starts on page 29 in Monday's City Council agenda) is centered on allowing the commission to enforce civil rights laws.  His proposal creates a community-based approach for resolving complaints he says would be less expensive and less bureaucratic.

The ordinance focuses on tackling some tough questions about discrimination in the city.

Norris said, "Why is it that we have such a gap in our schools between kids of different racial backgrounds, why is it that we have such a gap in our workforce?  Why is it that we have such disparities in our criminal justice system?"

A nine-member commission, with an estimated price tag of $180,000, would be selected to work on those problems.  The group's mission would be to eradicate illegal discrimination in Charlottesville using a three-pronged approach – systemic and institutional change, service coordination and awareness, and community dialogue and engagement.

Norris says people want a local process to deal with cases of reported individual discrimination.  "What the people who have come to city council have said is we want a local process, we don't want just a referral process," he said.

But Tim Hulbert, who served on the city-appointed Human Rights Task Force that met from March through November of last year, doesn't believe a commission is the best answer.  Hulbert says the 10-member task force ended up splitting into two groups, with six members proposing a commission and four members suggesting it would be better to create an Office of Human Rights advocate.  Hulbert was in the second group.

He said, "The difficulty with a politically-appointed commission is it's politically appointed, and so it's you'd bring good, well-intentioned citizens, but they're going to be much more political as opposed to judicial."

Now, Norris is proposing the city contract with a third-party community organization to research and investigate allegations of discrimination.  Under his hybrid approach, the human rights commission would have three working groups – one to address systemic and institutional discrimination, one to facilitate community engagement and dialogue, and one to support the efforts and evaluate the results of an outside organization's discrimination enforcement program.

"By creating this community-based process, it's not a government entity that's sort of exercising its powers so much as it's a community organization that's helping to mediate disputes, helping to investigate and research disputes," he said."

Norris also notes that only a small number of discrimination are not resolved or dismissed through investigation or mediation.

"What we know from other communities is that well over 90, 95 percent, sometimes 100 percent of cases are resolved through investigation, or dismissed through investigation or mediation," he said.  "They don't end up going to a hearing or an enforcement action, so this process will put something in place that will resolve the vast majority."

Norris says his proposal would allow the city to focus its efforts on dealing with institutional discrimination.

"It frees the city up to focus its own resources on dealing with the really hard stuff, which is that systemic and institutional discrimination which is really what affects so many thousands of members of our community day in and day out, week in and week out," he said."

The proposed commission would require the city to hire two full-time staff.  Norris says his plan would eliminate one of those positions.

City Council will review both proposals and vote on the issue Monday night.  The meeting starts at 7:00.

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