Discussing HRC Future

The sooner Wheeling Human Rights Commission members can decide what – if any – role the panel should play in the future, the better.

Earlier this year, Wheeling City Council cut the HRC’s budget dramatically, to $14,000. It had received $66,000 the previous year.

Like many other local government entities, council has to watch taxpayers’ money carefully to ensure priority programs are funded adequately. That often means reducing or eliminating budgets for less critical public services.

Council members agreed the state Human Rights Commission can handle complaints such as those of discrimination in housing that had been dealt with by the local HRC.

Because of the budget cut, the HRC no longer employs a full-time executive director. Now, complaints are accepted by Melissa Thompson, in the city’s Economic and Community Development Department. HRC members can either attempt to resolve disputes locally or send them to the state commission.

During a gathering of HRC members Monday, Thompson reported just one complaint, involving a potential case of housing discrimination. She said she sent the caller paperwork to be filled out if the person wants to pursue the matter.

Just three HRC members were in attendance Monday. That meant the panel could not meet officially, because a quorum was lacking.

Commission members have not held an official meeting since July. The August meeting was canceled and last month, a quorum was not present.

That prompted HRC Chairwoman Rabbi Beth Jacowitz Chottiner to suggest the panel consider different meeting dates and times, in an effort to ensure a majority of panel members can attend meetings.

Nine people are supposed to serve on the HRC, but there are two vacancies due to one former member who resigned for personal reasons and another who moved out of Wheeling. Mayor Andy McKenzie is to appoint replacements.

There seems to be enthusiasm for continuing the HRC’s work, albeit with very limited resources, among the three members who were present Monday. And it may be that failure to achieve quorums for two consecutive months was due to scheduling conflicts rather than a lack of interest.

McKenzie should appoint the two replacement members as soon as possible. Then, assuming the panel can achieve a quorum for a meeting, the issue of the HRC’s future should be discussed.