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Saturday, April 07, 2007

City Continues Move toward Stripping Anti-Discrimination Ordinance of Key Power

When the Davis City Council in June of 2006 put the Human Relations Commission on hiatus, one of their stated reasons for doing so was that the commission had gotten off track from its mission of promoting tolerance and understanding. While this is a laudable goal in any community, it was not the full charge and duty of commission.

The council subcommittee of Stephen Souza and Ruth Asmundson then sat down and re-wrote many of the charters of the commissions. One of the bigger changes was to be to the HRC which was to be precluded from investigating police issues and to have a primary purpose as an educational rather than an investigational commission.

It was not until newly elected Councilmember Lamar Heystek brought forward the language from the city's seminal anti-discrimination ordinance, that the council realized there may be inconsistencies between the new authorizing resolution of the HRC and the city's anti-discrimination ordinance passed in 1986.

At issue is Section 7A-15(C):
"Any person who believes he or she has been discriminated against in violation of the provisions of this ordinance may file a request to have the Human Relations Commission investigate and mediate his or her complaint. The Commission may adopt rules of procedure to accommodate the needs of such investigation mediation. A complaint to the Commission shall not be a prerequisite to filing a civil action under this section, and the findings and conclusions of the commission issued in response to such proceedings shall not be admissible in a civil action."
As Souza admitted as recently as last Tuesday, he had not read the ordinance when re-writing the rules and in fact, despite serving for many years himself on the HRC, was unaware of the ordinance at all.

This issue came up again on Tuesday, when Lamar Heystek pulled a routine item off the consent agenda that would have approved the minutes to a recent HRC. Councilmember Heystek then then put forward a motion that was seconded by Mayor Greenwald to assign city staff rather than the subcommittee to be in charge of reconciling the two documents. That was voted down by the council majority by a 3-2 when they passed a substitute motion allowing the subcommittee once again to do that work.

Councilmember Heystek respectfully but firmly pointed out to the subcommittee that they lacked legal training and moreover they had originally missed the provision. Councilmember Souza's defense was that they were not even aware of the provision, to which Heystek responded that proved his point.

The anti-discrimination ordinance was originally adopted into law by the City Council on Feberary 26, 1986 and approved by Nichols-Poulos, Rosenberg, Tomasi and Mayor Ann M. Evans and opposed by Jerry Adler. It was then affirmed with a vote by the people of Davis.

It is clear that the intent of the council majority here is to weaken the seminal anti-discrimination ordinance and remove from it the authority of the Human Relations Commission to investigate complaints.

Already we have seen numerous cases arise where the HRC's in the past would have played a vital role and this HRC has been silent. Moreover, we have also seen several events where the diversity of Davis is no longer showing up. Someone noted this to me on Cesar Chavez day and my terse response is what do you expect, many felt disenfranchised when the HRC was originally disbanded. Many do not feel that minorities are welcome in the city of Davis. Little that has occurred in the past now almost year has changed those feelings. This proposed alternation of the anti-discrimination ordinance would be yet another step in that direction. The day cannot come soon enough when there is a new council majority that puts an end once and for all to this nonsense.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting