Town council tables human rights commission ordinance discussion for now

The adoption of a Human Rights Commission ordinance for the Town of Nashville has paused until further discussion in the community can happen.

An audience showed up to the June 16 Nashville Town Council meeting expecting a discussion and second reading of the ordinance establishing a human rights commission only to find out the topic was not on the meeting’s agenda.

It was mentioned at the May 19 town council meeting that the commission and ordinance would be on the agenda for the June 16 meeting.

The subject was ultimately tabled after much “discrepancy” regarding the ordinance, Council President Nancy Crocker said last week.

“We’re tabling it because what we’ve seen is there is a lot of discrepancy because of what people think it is and what it actually is,” Crocker said at the meeting.

She said the council has also realized there is wording in the ordinance that she said is “not quite right” for Nashville.

“We want to make sure the ordinance is right and good for this town. We’re not going to push it through, we’re going to make sure it’s a good thing for this town,” she said.

At least 20 residents and business owners were present at the meeting on June 16.

Shelly Benson, owner of The Cheeky Owl, said that she felt a lot of the audience was present to discuss the human rights commission ordinance and asked if it would be discussed at the next town hall meeting.

Town council has been hosting discussion meetings on pre-determined topics once a month since the beginning of this year. Crocker said last week there is no set topic for the town hall meeting on July 7, but attendees can bring whatever item they wish to discuss.

Benson said the human rights commission is an important item to discuss.

Crocker said a second reading of the ordinance would be the next step before the commission is formally adopted.

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.”

Addressing discrimination

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.

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.

For months, discussions were had about establishing a commission 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.”

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.

She said last month that there needs to be a type of group that when there are incidents of discrimination, people feel they have a place for them to be addressed.

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.

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 states.

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

The draft of the Human Rights Commission Ordinance is available to read here: Ordinance+2022-03+Humans+Rights+Commission+Ordinance+-+draft+5-16-2022