HRC Chief To Be at Work Monday

WHEELING – Despite a 79-percent cut to the Wheeling Human Rights Commission’s budget, Executive Director Theresa Garrett technically still has a job – and she plans to report for work Monday as she has for the past 26 years.

She just has no idea where her workplace will be.

The lease for the HRC’s office space at the courthouse annex on 16th Street ends Monday, and it won’t be renewed since the $52,000 cut to the group’s budget also takes effect that day. But neither the commission nor City Council has taken action to relieve Garrett of her duties, and commission members plan to continue operating as instructed by city code – which, as written, provides for a paid executive director – unless council votes to change the ordinance.

Since that hasn’t happened, Garrett said she plans to show up at the courthouse annex Monday morning.

“If there’s nothing here, I’ll probably go to the third floor of the City-County Building” where municipal offices are located, she said.

Following council’s decision to cut the HRC’s budget from $66,000 to $14,000 for the 2013-14 fiscal year, City Manager Robert Herron indicated there would be space available at the City-County Building for a part-time employee. With just a few days remaining before their lease expires, however, commission members say the details of that transition remain unclear.

Garrett’s current salary of about $38,000 is almost three times the commission’s entire $14,000 budget for 2013-14, and her benefits alone would all but deplete that amount.

Commissioners also are concerned about another unresolved issue: what is to become of the file cabinets full of records, some containing complainants’ confidential personal information, that are housed inside the HRC’s office. They’re not sure whether they’re legally bound to maintain those records. And even if they can be destroyed, commission members wonder who will pay for it to be done properly.

“Nobody other than this commission and the executive director should have access to those files – nobody,” member Chuck Hood said.

Those issues were among a list of several the commission raised in letter to Herron and Mayor Andy McKenzie, written a day after members met with Herron, McKenzie, Councilwoman Gloria Delbrugge and Councilman Don Atkinson on June 3 to discuss the group’s future role.

Commissioners believe they can continue to adjudicate complaints even with a part-time executive director, while Herron has said that function should be passed on to the West Virginia Human Rights Commission.

Also present at the June 3 meeting were local representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Darryl Clausell and the Rev. Jeremiah Jasper.

“We have not gotten any response to any of these questions. There’s been absolutely no communication and this letter was dated June 4,” commission Chairwoman Rabbi Beth Jacowitz Chottiner said.

McKenzie and Herron did not immediately return calls seeking comment Monday.

Although commission members have said they are operating as normal, Garrett in the past few months has referred four potential complainants to the state Human Rights Commission, explaining to them that filing with the local commission may not be in their best interests because of the uncertainty surrounding it.

Once someone files with the local commission, they cannot re-file at the state level or with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

But if a resident decides to ignore her advice and file with the city anyway, Garrett said, she believes she is legally bound to accept that complaint.