Human Rights Task Force votes 6-4 to recommend Commission with enforcement powers

Human Rights Task Force co-chair Jesse Ellis listens to colleagues during a recent Task Force meeting. Photo by Graelyn Brashear Human Rights Task Force co-chair Jesse Ellis listens to colleagues during a recent Task Force meeting. Photo by Graelyn Brashear

After more than nine months of study and debate, Charlottesville’s Human Rights Task Force decided in a divided vote to recommend the city create a Human Rights Commission with the power to investigate and resolve complaints, but the issue is far from decided.

The 10-member Task Force was established earlier this year to investigate whether the city needed to establish an ordinance and a special body devoted to addressing discrimination—primarily in employment. There’s plenty of precedent in Virginia for such a move. Many Northern Virginia communities have long-established human rights commissions set up to act as local enforcers of national anti-discrimination laws. But Charlottesville’s Task Force had been deadlocked on the fundamentals.

The Cavalier Daily reported on the final meeting of the Task Force Wednesday night, when members voted 6-4 in favor of a Commission with enforcement powers, as opposed to one charged only with educating the community, advocating for victims of discrimination, and referring complaints to state-level authorities. That basic question of the mission and power of the eventual Commission has been the source of debate within the Task Force for months, and up until last month, members were split on the issue 5-5.

The Task Force vote was merely on the recommendation members will make to City Council later this month, and some members made it clear they wanted Council to hear about the dissent among the decision-makers.

Walt Heinecke, a UVA education professor and outspoken advocate for what he calls “a Commission with teeth,” called the vote “promising,” and urged officials to adopt the Task Force majority’s recommendations.

“I think it will also send a message to professionals considering whether or not to relocate to C’ville that we are a sensitive, caring, and diverse community. Our most disadvantaged citizens will be given access to justice and equity,” Heinecke wrote. “I feel it’s time for significant action by Council.”

City Council is expected to address the Task Force recommendations at its December 17 meeting.


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