City Moves to Restructure HRC; Garrett to Resign

Theresa Garrett will step down as Wheeling Human Rights Commission executive director at the end of July as City Council considers legislation stripping the commission’s authority to hear discrimination cases.

Vice Mayor Eugene Fahey and Councilmen Robert “Herk” Henry and David Miller – who comprise council’s Rules Committee – will meet at 9 a.m. Monday to discuss City Manager Robert Herron’s proposal to require the local commission to forward potential complaints for adjudication by the West Virginia Human Rights Commission, based in Charleston.

The restructured Wheeling HRC would serve primarily in an advisory capacity to the city, promoting human rights and raising awareness of discrimination.

City officials believe the local commission duplicates services offered at the state level, and cited an expected cut in federal funding as a reason for slashing the group’s budget by 79 percent from $66,000 to $14,000 – a sum that would have relegated Garrett to part-time status.

But members of Wheeling’s HRC have pointed out it often takes at least three months for the state commission to decide whether to accept a case, and the city recently learned it actually will receive a slight boost in its Community Development Block Grant allocation for this year.

Rabbi Beth Jacowitz Chottiner, commission chairwoman, said she and fellow volunteer board members tried to convince city leaders they could function in their current role even without the benefit of a full-time employee.

“I’m very disappointed. … When discrimination occurs, which we know does occur in Wheeling, (residents won’t) have a local avenue to resolve the issue quickly and effectively,” she said Friday.

The proposed ordinance also would reduce the volunteer board from nine board members to seven and eliminate the position of executive director, instead giving Herron the option to select a secretary for the commission and providing him sole authority on hiring, firing and compensation for that position.

Although council still has to vote on the proposed restructuring, Garrett told commission members of her plan to resign on June 28. She said she delayed her decision until it became clear the city intended to eliminate the commission’s enforcement powers.

According to Herron, enough money remains in the commission’s budget from the fiscal year just concluded to pay Garrett her full-time salary and benefits through her last day, July 31.