A committee of Athens-Clarke County lawmakers continued working on the creation of a Human Relations Commission at a meeting yesterday. That commission as proposed would be part of a larger effort by the Mayor and Commission to invest more resources into diversity, equity, and inclusion. Commissioners on the Legislative Review Committee see the HRC as a key part of that effort, along with the county’s non-discrimination ordinance, which passed last month.
The process of developing that Commission, however, is a complicated one. At yesterday’s meeting, committee members discussed the scope, composition, and duties of a Human Relations Commission. There was broad agreement that the Commission could serve to make policy suggestions to local government and to educate the public about the county’s non-discrimination ordinance.
District 8 Commissioner Carol Myers emphasized that the HRC would need to have actual powers to effect change.
"I think that what's really important to me is that this is not just symbolic and fluff, that it actually does something," Myers said.
District 6 Commissioner Jesse Houle wants their colleagues to look to the work of other cities when it comes to actually selecting members of the HRC.
"I'd like to use criteria similar to Asheville and Raleigh that ensures intersectional representation across different demographics, and I would like to highlight that, among the ones that might already seem obvious to us, youth members really seems key to me," Houle said, also noting that the Commission should include members under the age of 18.
Bringing in younger members is an idea that District 9 Commissioner Ovita Thornton agreed with. Thornton also urged her colleagues to consider a stipend or some type of compensation for members of not only the HRC, but for other Commission-appointed boards as well.
"We need to be finding ways to show our appreciation," THornton told colleagues. "If it's not through a stipend, some kind of way to tell people, 'Thank you for giving up your time and talent.'"
The Legislative Review Committee will continue working on the creation of a Human Relations Commission at a meeting next week. Lawmakers and staff say they want to have a plan for the full Commission to vote on in the coming weeks.