Naperville may expand commission to address human rights

 
 
Updated 7/17/2020 7:04 PM

Naperville City Council members on Tuesday are set to consider expanding the scope of the city's housing advisory commission into a human rights commission with a focus on promoting equal opportunity in housing and public accommodations.

Deputy City Manager Marcie Schatz is recommending the change after she has worked for several months with the U.S. Department of Justice on responding to racist episodes. The Justice Department reached out to the city last fall, Schatz said, and has been "an absolutely phenomenal resource."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The expanded commission would address complaints from anyone who believes they have been treated unfairly in housing or public accommodations based on their status as a member of a protected class, which is determined by factors including race, color, natural origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, order of protection status, pregnancy, religion, age, disability, military status, unfavorable discharge from military service or income.

"The housing advisory commission is already working in that space from a housing perspective," Schatz said, "and we thought it was really a natural expansion of that work overall."

The city has received one formal complaint within the past 18 months and a few informal complaints through its commissions on housing and accessibility. If created, the human rights commission would handle complaints related to housing or public accommodations and could interface with the police department if any complaints need investigation, city spokeswoman Linda LaCloche said.

The housing advisory commission has nine members, and the proposal the council is set to consider Tuesday recommends temporarily increasing the size to 11 people. Schatz said this would allow the city to seek new voices as the group's responsibilities increase.

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Staff members also recommend the city hire a dedicated diversity and inclusion employee, using a vacant position that can be transferred to the city manager's office from the electric utility.

"These recommendations recognize that advancing equity and inclusion in Naperville is not a short-term project, but rather a long-term commitment to continuous improvement," Schatz said in a memo. "We strive to be a more inclusive community, respecting all citizens and recognizing that the diversity of all backgrounds of people in our community make us stronger."

In a separate move, the city also plans to consider creating some sort of youth commission, council or task force to increase youth engagement and to listen to young people. City council members brought up the idea last month after seeing so many youths involved with recent protests against police brutality.

In a memo, Miranda Barfuss, assistant to the city council, said staff members recommend a "flexible" youth group structure "to ensure that we are leveraging, not duplicating, efforts of other organizations within the community."

Tuesday's meeting is set to be conducted at 7 p.m. via Zoom. Viewers can see viewing and commenting options on the agenda at https://naperville.legistar.com/Calendar.aspx.

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