HRC Presses on, But Fails to Muster Quorum

The Wheeling Human Rights Commission is down financially but not out, and its members want the public to know they still stand ready to address issues of discrimination in the community.

The commission failed to muster a quorum for their monthly meeting Monday, as Chairwoman Rabbi Beth Jacowitz Chottiner, Chuck Hood and George Blum were the only members in attendance. Diana Bell, the Rev. Ralph Dunkin, Shawn Fluharty and Ron Scott Jr. were absent.

They had planned to discuss priorities for their $14,000 budget for the fiscal year, which is almost 80 percent less than the $66,000 they had the previous year. Monday’s meeting was to be the first meeting since City Council passed an ordinance earlier this month restructuring the commission to reflect the budget reduction.

City code no longer provides for a paid staff member, and the commission now has the option of accepting formal discrimination complaints or suggesting they be forwarded to the West Virginia Human Rights Commission.

With all the uncertainty and talk of budget cuts over the past several months, commission members are concerned the public may believe the local HRC no longer exists. Though its physical office location has changed from the courthouse annex on 16th Street to the third floor of the City-County Building, the phone number remains the same, as does the group’s objectives, Hood said.

“We are not gone,” Blum added. “We are still here. … I think we have a very workable system now.”

Hood said he’s pleased with city leaders’ willingness to work with commission members to create a system in which cases can be handled locally, as opposed to the city’s original proposal which would automatically have sent complaints to the state level.

Melissa Thompson of the city’s Economic and Community Development Department, which has absorbed administrative duties for the commission now that it no longer has a dedicated staff member, said she has received a call from someone with a potential housing discrimination complaint. She said she sent that person the necessary paperwork about 10 days ago, but has yet to hear back from the potential complainant.

Commission members haven’t held an official meeting since July, as their August meeting was canceled and they also failed to muster a quorum in September. Jacowitz Chottiner suggested the group look into dates and times that may work better with members’ schedules.

“It’s not realistic to continue this way,” she said.

With the recent resignations of the Rev. Robert Romick due to his move out of the city and Cynthia Hutchison for personal reasons, there are two vacancies on the nine-member commission. It’s up to Mayor Andy McKenzie to fill those vacancies, so Hood said anyone who may be interested should send a resume to him at the City-County Building, 1500 Chapline St., Wheeling.