Human rights commission closer to forming, second reading set for this month

Another step has been taken to formally form a commission to address human rights issues in the Town of Nashville.

The draft of the Human Rights Commission ordinance was developed based on findings from the Nashville Human Rights Advisory Committee, which was formed at the beginning of 2021.

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.

The committee worked for nine months to evaluate the need for a town human rights commission before presenting the findings to town council.

According to the draft ordinance, the Town of Nashville “recognized that the declaration and elevation of civil and human rights upholds the sanctity of the individual and guarantees their ability to participate freely in society.”

The draft states that the town recognizes the need for a human rights commission to “address issues of bias, discrimination and prejudice in the community, which has been documented by comments and complaints in the community,” either by personal testimony or reported cases.

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.

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 in 2020.

The need to provide a venue where complaints can be made in an environment that is safe, confidential and where an individual may seek help from trained volunteers is recognized in the ordinance draft.

The structure of the commission is addressed in the draft ordinance as well.

“A Human Rights Commission shall be established from volunteers from the community, to be selected by the Nashville Town Council, with a total of five volunteers,” it states.

There shall be one member from the town council with a one year appointment to the commission and four members from the Brown County community at-large.

The commission will also create an information page on the town’s website on its role in the community.

If created, the commission shall establish a relationship with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and with the state regional director of the Indiana Civil Rights Commission to “foster educational resources as well as to provide utilization of the resources at the federal and state levels to assist in providing assistance at the local level,” the draft ordinance states.

The commission will 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 in November.

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

Identifying a need

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.

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.”

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.

Crocker said the committee advised the council to compose a “simple” ordinance, with the realizations that commission members would be volunteer and that the demand for such a commission is not as high as Bloomington or Columbus.

But a need still exists locally with visitors reporting discrimination to Visitors Center staff in town and there not being a formal way to report those, Crocker said.

“We do have a need to have some type of group that when there are incidents of discrimination, people feel they have a place to take them to,” she said.

“It’s important to have because we want people in and outside this community to know this town respects everyone regardless of who they are and wants people to be treated fairly. There’s kind of some ugly things that have happened, even in the recent past, we want to make a statement that that is not what this community is about.”

Should an individual face discrimination, they have the ability to inform the Human Rights Commission, who will then direct the individual to appropriate resources provided by the state.

“These people are not taking reports, they’re here to facilitate and direct to people who are trained in this matter at the state level,” Crocker said. “We would act as a funnel and be able to direct people to the correct organization that they need to go to in order to get assistance.”

Acting as a funnel is the first goal of the commission, the second is to make the council aware of “what’s going on in the world” and encourage social sensitivity to events like Juneteenth, Women’s History Month, PRIDE, Martin Luther King Day and other holidays of that nature, the draft ordinance says.

Crocker is also currently pursuing support from the state to form the commission. The council has also held ongoing discussions about forming the commission with hopes of bringing other county entities on board.

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.

Crocker welcomed the community to read the draft ordinance and email council members to share thoughts.

“We want to know your thoughts, whether it’s positive or negative, because we represent you,” she said.

The second reading of the draft will be at the council’s next meeting on May 19.

The draft of the Human Rights Commission Ordinance is available to read online at townofnashville.org/ordinances.