Naperville planning for human rights commission
Naperville City Council members are supporting an idea, formed with help from the federal Department of Justice, to create a human rights commission to address discrimination complaints.
Some members said they are uncertain if the city should hire a full-time staff member to support the commission and engage in other diversity, equity and inclusion work.
But the council unanimously voted to have staff members prepare an ordinance that establishes a human rights commission by expanding the purview of the housing advisory commission.
Several council members called the idea "past-due." It comes after racist episodes were reported at a Naperville restaurant, gas station and school within the past year.
Marcie Schatz, deputy city manager, said the human rights commission would take up complaints about discrimination in housing or public accommodations based on a person's status as a member of a protected class. This means it could handle cases that arise because of 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.
Council member Benny White said people should not be falsely comforted by the fact the city's commissions on housing and disability rights handled only one formal complaint within the past 18 months.
"What this taught us was that we don't have a system of reporting or people do not feel comfortable or understand the process of reporting when something happens," White said.
He said expanding the housing advisory commission into the realm of public accommodations and human rights could create a better and more well-known system for addressing discriminatory treatment.
Schatz said the city's goal is to provide a clear point of contact and one clear process to follow for any discrimination complaints.
City staff members now will work on an ordinance to create the expanded commission. At the same time, City Manager Doug Krieger said, they will craft a job description for a position that could help with the commission's work.
Schatz said the role would include work with any complaints received through the new commission as well as on outreach within city departments and the community about equity and inclusion and duties related to human resources and policing.
"We're long overdue for a person who's doing this sort of work at the city," council member Theresa Sullivan said.
Council member Patrick Kelly said a new staff member could help with proactive steps to decrease the likelihood of discrimination complaints. And council member Judith Brodhead said hiring such a professional is "crucial."
Council members Paul Hinterlong, John Krummen, Kevin Coyne and Patty Gustin, however, raised questions about the need for a full-time staff member. The position would come from a vacant job within the electric utility. But they still wondered if the hire needs to be made and if the role needs to be full-time.
Krieger said staff members will bring back a job description for council consideration at a future meeting.