Council remains torn over future of Human Rights Committee
Jan. 15 discussion brought more frustration and little resolution
Plymouth’s Human Rights Committee continues to draw ardent discussion.
The latest installment came at a city council meeting specifically to interview potential board and committee appointees Jan. 15 at city hall.
Those groups advise the council in specific areas such as transit, parks and recreation and environmental quality.
A number of residents had applied to fill a handful of vacancies throughout the city’s seven advisory boards.
Following the interviews, time was allotted for the council to discuss the Human Rights Committee, which has become a frequent topic of discussion because of what many see as a lack of direction and structural complications.
While some residents who applied for boards expressed direct interest in serving on the panel, the Council chose instead to debate whether a human rights advisory board was necessary or could function in Plymouth.
“I really think we need to find out where this group is going before we repopulate it or try to come up with things for them to do, because I just don’t know if it’s been meeting its goals,” said Councilmember Judy Johnson. “But I don’t want to do anything rash and close our options for the future.”
Issues surrounding the human rights group have include committee seats being held by City Council members, poor turnout for events and work plan discrepancies. Councilmember Bob Stein and Mayor Kelli Slavik hold spots on the committee, and Police Chief Mike Goldstein formerly sat on the committee prior to his resignation in November 2012.
Committee member Kelly Guncheon spoke at the Jan. 15 meeting reiterating his position that council members should not hold voting roles on the board.
“My simple point is that it’s a committee that’s to advise [the City Council] and I would like the opportunity to do that,” Guncheon said. “There’s an inference of mistrust by having City Council members on the committee. My wish is that we be allowed to function as a true citizen’s committee.”
Guncheon said he believes in the work the committee is designed to do and does not want to see the group disband entirely.
“I think the City of Plymouth deserves an HRC,” he said. “I think there’s important work to do. And unfortunately it’s been colored by some discussion.”
One option included the suggestion that responsibilities outlined in the committee’s work plan could be more effectively handled by city staff and that the Parks and Recreation department’s resources could be utilized in implementing other goals.
Councilmember Ginny Black suggested the committee’s lack of direction could be attributed to the council’s lack of clarity.
“I think it’s important to give each committee, regardless of the committee, a clear statement saying ‘this is your mission, this is how you interact with the council,’” Black said. “We’ve had issues with other committees as well. We need to lay out the expectations in a way that people get to know what their responsibilities are.”
“It’s also important for the staff to give projects and things for a committee to work on,” added Councilmember Tim Bildsoe. “There needs to be something a group has to do, and then they can be satisfied. That’s an important thing.”
City staff prepared a report regarding human rights-themed advisory boards throughout similar cities in the metro area.
However, after reviewing the report, councilmembers agreed it remained unclear as to what an effective, if any, human rights group in Plymouth would look like.
The Council moved to table the discussion and revisit the future of the group at a later study session.
“We need to know what this group could do, who it should be made of, what will be the focus, what they want to do and what the city council wants them to do,” said Johnson. “And if we can’t get there tonight, we can’t get there. I don’t want to rush anything. I want to get it right. Because we can’t get it wrong again.”
Others wanted to resolve the issue immediately and move on.
“I can see why holding off might be a good idea, but I also then wonder when we will decide to not hold off,” Black said. “If we just call a time out and walk away, then we’re just in limbo.”
“I think what we need to do is have staff come up with either a blank work plan or a plan with activities, and from there we can decide what we want to do,” Stein added. “Putting it on hold is fine, but there needs to be an ending.”
As time ran up to the council’s closed meeting scheduled for that night, no definitive conclusion was reached. The council resolved to review the report drafted by staff and to schedule a study session devoted to either cementing the future of the HRC, or nixing the group all together.
Contact Brian Rosemeyer at email@example.com