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Human Rights Commission plans small-group meetings with city councilors

Charlottesville’s Human Rights Commission is planning small meetings with the City Council ahead of a joint work session later this summer to discuss changes to its structure.

A committee of the commission recently held a virtual meeting to discuss developments ahead of the commission’s next meeting.

Last month, the commission began discussing changes to its structure and a job description for a director of the Office of Human Rights.

The commission was established, along with the Office of Human Rights, in 2013. The commission is largely an advisory and community outreach panel, because it doesn’t have direct state authority to investigate discrimination complaints.

The commission and office have been scrutinized since inception, with some saying they don’t do enough to investigate complaints and others faulting the council for limiting its powers.

The changes under consideration include hiring a director with legal and civil rights credentials; conducting one major study on systemic discrimination per year; and reducing membership to seven or nine members.

The commission had scheduled a joint work session with the City Council on July 28, but commissioners on Thursday said that Mayor Nikuyah Walker proposed 2-2-1 meetings with councilors first. Those meetings would be held around a planned City Council retreat for later this month before a full work session.

The 2-2-1 meetings are held with less than a quorum of councilors to avoid open-meeting requirements under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

The commission agreed to postpone the work session to hold small meetings with the council.

Commission Chairwoman Shantell Bingham said the meetings would be the beginning of a working relationship with the council. The two bodies haven’t held a full joint work session since October 2018.

“We’re trying to rebuild our relationship with council,” Bingham said. “There’s probably a lot of relationship building that we need to do, so I don’t think it’s the worst idea to have these conversations before a broader joint session.”

The committee agreed that the small meetings should focus on hiring a full-time director, better communication with the City Manager’s Office and updating the commission’s structure.

The committee also discussed some of the items that would be brought forth at the next full commission meeting, which will include the director job description and an ordinance change to cover discrimination based on gender identity.

The commission next meets on July 17.


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