City Council poised to revive Human Relations Commission

Jeremy Lazarus | 3/10/2018, 7:14 a.m.
Richmond soon could have a new Human Relations Commission as a platform to hear and investigate residents’ complaints about bias, ...

Richmond soon could have a new Human Relations Commission as a platform to hear and investigate residents’ complaints about bias, bigotry and discrimination in areas ranging from race and religion to gender orientation, disability and pregnancy.

Richmond City Council is poised to approve legislation at its meeting next Monday to create the 13-member commission, including 11 adults and two high school students.

Councilwoman Ellen F. Robertson, 6th District, and Councilman Parker C. Agelasto, 5th District, are spearheading the ordinance based on recommendations issued last year by a council-appointed task force.

The city commission is to be modeled after similar commissions in Newport News and Virginia Beach.

Although it is unclear whether any funding will be provided even for part-time staff, the legislation would grant the commission wide-ranging authority.

Among other things, the commission could investigate complaints and make recommendations for their resolution and assist people to find the right agency with which to file a complaint.

The commission also could hold public forums to discuss human rights issues or address policies and practices that create problems; conduct studies on ways to improve human relations in Richmond and propose solutions; provide a resource guide for residents; and request information on incidents to determine whether reported incidents involve illegal discrimination.

Essentially, the commission would be a front-line advisory body to help city government and City Council “safeguard all individuals within the city from unlawful discrimination because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, marital status or disability in places of public accommodations,” educational institutions, real estate transactions and employment.

If approved as anticipated — the measure is currently included on the consent agenda — this would be the second such commission for the city.

A similar commission operated for more than 30 years before City Council eliminated it in 2006 at the behest of then-Mayor L. Douglas Wilder.

Even now it remains unclear why the commission was dismantled. However, the commission had fallen out of favor at City Hall when the council accepted the recommendation to eliminate it.

The revival of the commission concept began nearly two years ago when Riqia Taylor, a Virginia Commonwealth University student, began pushing the idea amid the uproar over police shootings of African-Americans nationally and a wave of other concerns involving fair treatment of people.

The council created a task force to offer a recommendation in November 2016, and Ms. Taylor was among the appointees.

She wound up as chair of the task force by the time the recommendations were presented to the council last fall.

The new legislation follows the recommendations in both creating a commission and establishing a policy to ensure the “the protection and enforcement of the human and civil rights of all people living and working in the city.”

City Council has been in no rush to make the commission happen. Ms. Robertson and Mr. Agelasto introduced the legislation Feb. 26, about five months after council received the task force’s report.

If the measure is approved, it is unclear when the commission would be able to get to work.

The council would need to appoint the members, and that could take months to accomplish.

The task force Ms. Taylor headed also recommended that $50,000 be set aside to provide part-time staff.