Town council continues talks of human rights commission, role in county

Nashville Town Council may soon have a partner in establishing a countywide Human Rights Commission.

The council has held ongoing discussions about forming the commission with hopes of bringing other county entities on board.

At the Jan. 20 town council meeting, council president Nancy Crocker said that Brown County Commissioner President Jerry Pittman reached out about partnering with the council somehow in this effort. Pittman could not be reached for further comment by deadline.

The Nashville Human Rights Committee worked for nine months to evaluate the need for a town human rights commission and presented findings to town council in November.

The town council had discussed establishing a commission off and on for months before announcing the acceptance of applications for the advisory committee in January of 2021. The goal was to form a group of five people to study “the need, function, structure and scope of a Human Rights Commission.”

Originally the committee was to meet for three months.

The duties of the committee included researching the possible creation of a longer-term human rights commission and what that group would do; reviewing and comparing the human rights commission ordinances of nearby counties and cities; and communicating with the Brown County Commissioners about forming a countywide human rights commission.

On Jan. 20, Crocker said she would like to bring in the commissioners, Brown County Chamber of Commerce, the Convention and Visitors Bureau and Brown County Schools to have different community and county entities “signing off” on the commission.

Council Vice President Anna Hofstetter said that any community cooperation was good and that the work done by the human rights advisory committee must be valued moving forward.

“Whatever collaboration comes from this we need to make sure that their efforts are valued with the new system moving forward,” she said.

Committee President Domonic Potorti presented to the council last November. He said that their research proved documented inequities in the community, which were identified and voiced by citizens and visitors.

Potorti said in November that the town has few — if any — reliable or consistent ways to report or evaluate the quality and treatment of its citizens and visitors.

He said that precedence is already being established locally, like in the Brown County School Corporation which created a district Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee of staff members in 2019.

The establishment of the commission, Potorti said, would improve the perception of the community and bring focus on how a small town in rural Indiana can do it.

The possible new commission would be able to work in tandem with the state, who has offered training, representation in meetings, print materials, radio PSAs, news articles and legal processing of complaints at no cost, Potorti said.

The Indiana Civil Rights Commission Annual Report of 2020 showed that 8,581 reports were made to the state office. Of those reports, 784 were drafted into complaints and of those complaints 282 were from Region 9, which includes Brown County.

According to the advisory committee’s recommendation document, the “establishment of a Human Rights Commission will ensure that the Town of Nashville/Brown County takes every opportunity to comply with current human rights laws and policies.”

The committee stated in their recommendation a record of “bias and discrimination” has been documented by the newspaper and by comments and complaints taken at the Visitors Center along with personal testimony by shop owners, students and delivery drivers. A need was also documented based on comments taken from more than 100 people who participated in the Nashville Solidarity Rally last year.

An established Human Rights Commission would consolidate all of that reporting instead of having it scattered among different organizations.

The commission would also track community progress in “several human rights-related areas, which may provide credibility in business reviews,” the recommendation from the committee states.

“Innovative human rights policies, may, for example, boost local tourism and business, recruitment of employees, attract potential residents, writing of grants, ratings in surveys and boost the overall perception and health of the community,” the recommendation continues.

The town council has discussed this topic off and on since the summer of 2020 when a draft ordinance establishing a human rights commission was introduced.

After a multi-hour meeting in early January of 2021, the informal task force came up with a resolution that sought to have the council establish an official temporary citizens advisory committee, which would make recommendations to the council on next steps.