A second reading of a new proposed ordinance establishing a Human Rights Commission will happen this week, giving members of the Nashville Town Council an opportunity to ask for a vote on an issue that has been debated for nearly two years.
The council will meet at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 18 at Nashville Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
Last month, the town council was set to have a second reading on the original ordinance establishing the commission, but due to revisions made between the first and second readings Town Attorney Wanda Jones recommended the council go back to “square one” in procedure and have a first reading of the revised ordinance instead, town council President Nancy Crocker said.
Changes made to the proposed ordinance were based on community input and legal advisement, Crocker continued.
“We were making changes based on what the community was saying to us,” she said. “Based on reevaluating the intention of what the Human Rights Commission was going to be and making (the ordinance) a lot more concise.”
The second version of the ordinance states that the town recognizes the need to “support civil and human rights through community education and guidance toward existing resources provided by state and federal agencies.” It continues that the town also recognizes the need “to provide a centralized way for citizens and visitors to address these issues through a local human connection.”
This version no longer includes specific language about the commission offering “educational training” to leaders in the public and private sector “regarding awareness of diversity” in town and encouraging awareness of diversity in the community. It also does not include mention of the commission possibly surveying the ways human rights are locally addressed “with a goal to enrich and expand on educational programming” for the town.
A portion of the first draft ordinance regarding the commission providing education regarding holidays and observations, such as Juneteenth and Women’s History Month, was also not included in the new version.
The current version states the commission will establish a relationship with the Indiana Civil Rights Commission “to foster educational resources as well as to provide utilization of the resources.” It continues that the commission will work with existing civil and human rights-related programs in the community.
The state commission enforces state civil rights laws and investigates complaints of discrimination while providing education to organizations, companies, landlords, associations and individuals on their rights and responsibilities under Indiana Civil Rights Laws, according to the ICRC website.
Under this new version, the commission will still create an informational page on the town’s website and members will present an annual report to the town council about progress made.
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. The committee worked for nine months to evaluate the need for a town Human Rights Commission before presenting the findings and a recommendation to town council last fall.
The committee stated in their recommendation a record of “bias and discrimination” has been documented by a variety of sources including the newspaper and 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. Last fall, committee President Domonic Potorti said the town has few — if any — reliable or consistent ways to report or evaluate the quality and treatment of its citizens and visitors.
An established Human Rights Commission would consolidate all of that reporting instead of having it scattered among different organizations. According to the draft of the new ordinance, the town “recognizes 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.”
It is important to note that the commission would not have the authority to prosecute any individual or organization about whom a complaint is made, but would be a resource for people to file a complaint. The commission would also provide resources to an individual that specialize in the area most appropriate for a given complaint.
There are already processes in place to file such complaints at the state and federal levels. The local commission would only serve as a resource in the process of filing a complaint.
If established, the commission would be made up of five volunteer members of the Brown County community at-large, selected by the town council.
The commission would develop a code of ethics, which would require members to keep complaints in confidence, according to the draft ordinance.
Crocker said it is most important for the community to know the proposed commission will not work proactively looking for people or businesses to file complaints against. It will instead work reactively with those who have already experienced discrimination locally.
“They’re there to be helpful when people have issues, but not to be the ones that help them (with the issues). It’s a middle man,” she said.
Right now there are at least five entities an individual can go within the community now to make a complaint: the Brown County Sheriff’s Office, Brown County Health Department, Nashville Town Council, the Brown County Visitors Center and Brown County School Corporation.
Having a commission would centralize complaints, Crocker said.
“If the health department has someone call, they’ll refer them to the town (commission),” she said.
Crocker said in July that the council would not vote on the commission forming until August. Following the second reading this week, a motion would have to be made by a town council member to approve the ordinance and form the commission. If a second motion is made, the floor will then be opened for public input before an official vote is taken.
Each person wanting to speak will have three minutes and it will not be a conversation, Crocker said. This meeting will be the last opportunity for the public to share comments on the commission, she added.
At the roundtable discussion meeting held by the town council on July 7 talks centered around the Human Rights Commission and the proposed ordinance.
Members of the community spoke both for and against the commission while others attended to learn more.
Resident Jessica George said at the meeting that if town council approves the ordinance and creates the commission she will “run” to serve on it. She said such a commission would “steer the people to right places” to file a complaint after experiencing discrimination.
“We are becoming a very diverse community and there have been some cases of heinous things that have happened. This is not a group that is going to march down to the prosecutor’s office,” she said.
Others questioned the need for a Human Rights Commission when there are resources available in the community already to help with such complaints.
Beth Schroeder, who sat on the Human Rights Advisory Committee, said there are five places in the community to report discrimination and none of those are centralized or offer a consistent form that can be used.
“There’s no accountability, no standard for how that information is used,” she said. “It’s very inefficient right now. … None of them talk to each other, none of them are centralized or sharing information. We don’t have a good idea of the feedback that’s coming in.”
Schroeder said the ad hoc committee spent nine months canvassing different community organizations and how they report information, how they receive it and what is done afterwards.
Numbers received are difficult to gauge because those who report incidents or complaints will often do so in their home communities or at the state level.
“There’s just no centralized way to know what’s going on and to help people in a consistent way,” Schroeder said.
Some also questioned if discrimination even happened often in Nashville and Brown County.
Resident Joseph Havlin said his opinion was even with changes to the current draft, the commission would work with an “agenda” of the initial draft still in their minds.
“The council does what the council wants to do,” he said.
A draft of the ordinance is available to read on the town’s website at townofnashville.org/ordinances.