Garrett at Final Meeting as HRC Director

Theresa Garrett received a standing ovation from Wheeling Human Rights Commission members Monday during her final meeting after 26 years as the group’s executive director.

Member George Blum introduced a resolution expressing appreciation for Garrett’s “many years of diligent work.” Commission members unanimously approved the resolution, then one by one stood and applauded Garrett, whose last day on the job will be Wednesday. She chose to step down after City Council cut the commission’s annual budget from $66,000 to $14,000 – enough only for a part-time employee.

“I have had the most amazing commissioners over the last 26 years. … I’ve been blessed with being around that,” Garrett said following the meeting, noting she is hopeful about her pursuit of other job opportunities.

Although Monday’s meeting provided a degree of finality for Garrett, the same cannot be said for commission members who still are waiting to learn exactly what their role will be in light of the 79-percent budget cut that led to Garrett’s decision to step down.

Commission Chairwoman Rabbi Beth Jacowitz Chottiner said she believes the city’s legal department is preparing a draft of a new human rights ordinance for a first reading before council on Aug. 20 with a final vote on Sept. 3. Council’s three-member Rules Committee on July 8 recommended restructuring the commission in light of its reduced budget – but they did not support the most substantial change City Manager Robert Herron proposed, which would have stripped the commission of its authority to adjudicate discrimination complaints and required those complaints be forwarded to the state Human Rights Commission.

Other proposed changes include reducing the local group’s membership from nine to seven and eliminating the executive director position, replacing it with a secretary whom Herron would have sole authority to select. Herron has indicated plans to assign those duties to an existing city employee following Garrett’s departure Wednesday.

But commission member Diana Bell pointed out the law that’s still in effect puts the commission and City Council in charge of personnel decisions.

“We don’t have any say-so in our own personnel. … How can they legally make changes before the ordinance is changed?” Bell said.

During the meeting, city resident Charles Ballouz wished Garrett success in her future endeavors, and expressed disappointment that no city officials attended the meeting to acknowledge her service. Wheeling YWCA Executive Director Lori Jones offered her organization’s support, and the Rev. James O’Brien presented Garrett and commission members with a plaque recognizing their service, on behalf of the local Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee.

Commission members also went behind closed doors for about 45 minutes to discuss a personnel matter but took no action following the executive session.