City, county agree to form rights commission: British Columbia
Jeffrey Mize, Columbian Staff Writer
(VANCOUVER, Wash.) - A human rights commission that would attack discrimination in Clark County through education and referral is on track to be formed this year.
The Vancouver City Council and Clark County commissioners agreed Monday to push ahead with hearings on a scaled-down rights commission.
The commission would not be empowered to investigate complaints and take action. Instead, it would refer complaints to the state Human Rights Commission for enforcement.
In November, the two elected boards were given a more far-reaching proposal that prompted concerns of duplicating services already provided by the state.
"I think it has become a much stronger proposal," Councilman Dan Tonkovich said. "To educate is much different than to investigate. To mediate is much different than to investigate."
"This is an exceptional proposal, one I feel very good about," Commissioner Craig Pridemore agreed. "This is a unique role, an appropriate one and a necessary one that the state is not fulfilling."
Among Washington's 10 largest cities, only Vancouver does not have a local human rights panel.
Past estimates indicated that Clark County is a largely white community. Fresh data from the 2000 Census, the first scheduled for release this week, are expected to reveal a county that, while still largely white, has growing racial and ethnic diversity.
Dvija Michael Bertish, secretary of the Community Coordinating Committee that proposed the local panel, said the nine-member commission would provide a neutral environment for residents to file human rights grievances.
"There will be no expanded local anti-discrimination ordinance proposed at this time," he said. "That will be the work of a future human rights commission."
Complaints of hate crimes would be referred to the Clark County Sheriff's Office or other law enforcement agency. Other complaints would be sent to the state commission if all parties agree to mediation.
"If mediation is not reached, the case would be referred back to the human rights commission at the local level for tracking purposes," Bertish said.
Bertish said a lack of understanding of state and federal anti-discrimination laws means that few violations are reported.
"Most people turn a cold shoulder to it, don't even file a complaint," he said.
The proposal calls for county commissioners and council members to appoint commission members to three-year terms. Initial appointments would be staggered, with appointees serving two-, three- and four-year terms.
Proponents have pared the original $123,034 budget by 27 percent to 50 percent, depending on whether the commission would have a full-time or part-time human rights specialist.
The coordinating committee recommended an $89,590 budget for a full-time employee. More than half would go to that person's $40,500 salary and $1,340 benefits.
Pridemore suggested the city and county each agree to provide $ 30,000 or $35,000 to get the commission formed and allow it to seek funding from other cities.
'Very, very big concerns'
Councilwoman Jeanne Lipton continued to voice reservations about funding. She said the budget for the human rights commission in Spokane is up to $600,000.
"I do have very, very big concerns about the budget," Lipton said. "It starts with the $35,000. That's where it starts. That isn't where it ends."
Martyn Butler, a former city council candidate, said the revised proposal is an improvement, but he's not sure there will be enough money for education.
"How can they do it with what they have in the budget?" Butler said after Monday's meeting. "The best education is still in the schools and the churches, working with the young people."
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