Rights Group Members Positive About Future

WHEEELING – Despite uncertainty over how their activities will be funded next year, Wheeling Human Rights Commission members remain hopeful that all is not lost.

During a Monday meeting, commissioners brought up a discussion that took place during an Oct. 16 City Council meeting that put the commission’s future in doubt.

The Human Rights Commission’s entire $65,897 budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 comes from Wheeling’s allocation of federal Community Development Block Grant money received through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. About 80 percent of that sum pays the salary and insurance benefits of the commission’s only employee, Executive Director Theresa Garrett.

However, officials of Wheeling Health Right – which historically received about $20,000 a year in CDBG money but got none this fiscal year as the city’s entitlement amount dropped – are making a case to City Council that their CDBG funding should be restored. City Manager Robert Herron said council may have to choose between funding Health Right and other outside public service agencies again or funding the Human Rights Commission.

Chairwoman Rabbi Beth Jacowitz Chottiner previously said she hopes City Council will consider funding the commission through the general fund as it did in the past.

“We definitely expect City Council to work with us to continue to exist. … We are optimistic that we will be able to reach some sort of agreement,” she said Monday.

The Rev. Robert Romick suggested he and his fellow commissioners contact their council representatives and urge them to attend a meeting and learn more about what the group does.

“Maybe we could get a few here. … It’s worth a try,” said Romick.

Downtown Wheeling resident Charlie Ballouz said he was “very upset” upon hearing the commission’s funding may be cut off next year, and he believes there is a need for the group in Wheeling.

“I am certainly one who will always be in favor of what you do – protect human rights under all different descriptions,” Ballouz told commissioners.

The commission is empowered by city ordinance to investigate complaints of discrimination based on race, religion, ancestry, sex, handicap or familial status in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations. During the fiscal year that ended June 30, the commission investigated 13 discrimination complaints, making it the commission’s second most active year in a quarter-century, according to Garrett.

Garrett said the commission is currently investigating one open complaint, a housing-race case that is in the fact-finding stage. Commissioners also went behind closed doors to discuss a personnel matter. No action was taken following that executive session.

The Human Rights Commisson’s next meeting is scheduled for 3 p.m. Nov. 26 on the third floor of the Courthouse Annex, 51 16th St.