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City Council discusses changes to Human Rights Commission

Charlottesville is planning to make changes to its Human Rights Commission.

City Council moved forward amendments to the ordinance governing the commission during its meeting on Tuesday.

The commission was established, along with the Office of Human Rights, in 2013. The commission is largely an advisory and community outreach panel, but also investigates discrimination complaints within city limits.

The commission, which has been scrutinized for its effectiveness since its inception, has been considering revisions to its ordinance since 2019.

Commission chair Mary Bauer said the changes were “modest,” but “important.”

The amendments reflect recent changes in state laws, provides clarifications regarding investigations and brings the ordinance closer in line with the city’s Strategic Plan.

Walt Heinecke, a University of Virginia professor and community activist, has been leading the charge to improve the commission. He said the council didn’t go far enough in moving forward the ordinance amendments.

Heinecke has been calling for changes that would affect the office and the commission. The recommendations he’s supported include hiring a manager with legal and civil rights credentials; conducting one major study on systemic discrimination per year; directing the manager to develop an agreement for federal and state authority; reducing membership to seven or nine members; requiring four commissioners with subject-matter expertise and moving the office into the City Attorney’s Office.

“Your lack of action delays justice and denies justice to those who need action in our community,” he said. “You’re not taking the Human Rights Commission seriously like you take the planning commission seriously. … You don’t want to take the necessary steps to make this work.”

In other business, the council received an update on the process of crafting its climate action plan.

In July 2019, the council adopted a goal to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas output by 45% by 2030 and totally eliminate emissions by 2050.

The goal is tied to the Compact of Mayors, which the city joined in 2017. The group is a global coalition of mayors and city officials committed to curbing climate change.

The reduction numbers are based on 2011 outputs. As of 2016, the city was halfway to its 45% goal.

In October, city officials said about 90% of Charlottesville’s emissions are generated by residential and commercial sectors and citywide transportation.

City officials held virtual workshops in December to start directing strategies to reduce emissions.

Over the next six months, the group crafting the plan will create a committee, topic teams, discussion groups and task forces. The group also will hold public input sessions.


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