Dover City Council's Legislative, Finance and Administration Committee is considering changes to the city's Human Relations Commission.
Dover's Human Relations Commission was under the microscope at the Tuesday meeting of Dover's Legislative, Finance and Administration Committee.
In general, committee members were concerned that the commission lacks focus, that community members don't really understand its function and that commission members have been seen as trying to dig up problems where none may exist.
In addition, the panel, which is supposed to have 15 active members, often operates with less than that number. Currently there are only eight active commissioners; the remaining seats remain empty.
Commission members are appointed by City Council and the mayor.
The commission was formed in February 2002 when racial tensions rose in the city following the death of a black man while in police custody and the shooting of a white Dover police officer by a black man. The police officer survived the attack.
"We had at that time a crisis in the city, and it was deemed necessary to create the Human Relations Commission," said First District Councilman James Hutchison, who was mayor at the time. But since then Hutchison said, the commission has seemed to operate without a clear mandate.
"When the commission was created, a serious injustice was done by not giving them a sense of direction to operate under," he said. "If you look back until now, by not finding and giving them a sense of direction, we have failed to do justice to the commission itself."
"I think it would behoove all of us to see if we can revisit this commission and see if we can make it better," Hutchison concluded.
Council member William Hare concurred.
"I think we need to redefine the scope of what they're supposed to do," Hare said, adding that in the past he had the impression commission members sometimes were "looking for something to do."
The commission has stirred storms of public furor over the years by supporting same-sex marriage and an apology for Delaware's slave-owning past.
Commission members are supposed to solve problems, not go looking for them, Hare said.
"If we're going to keep them, I think we need to address this," he said.
There was no talk about disbanding the commission; rather committee members felt the commission needed better guidelines on how they are supposed to function.
Roy Sudler, current chairman of the committee, suggested city officials consult with members of the state HRC for assistance.
"They can shed some light on how we can function more effectively in Dover," Sudler said.
In the end, committee members agreed to schedule a special committee meeting that would deal specifically with revamping the commission.
The full City Council would have to agree with that idea before it could be implemented.
Afterward, Sudler said there needs to be more clarity in defining the commission's purpose and in educating members of the public as to its purpose and how complaints or concerns may be brought up.
"I agree that there needs to be clarity in the operations of the Dover Human Relations Commission," he said. "I think we've worked hard not to be seen as divisive and not to be considered a controversial group but as a group to be used to bring people together."
During City Council's regularly scheduled meeting following the committee session, council agreed to give the owners of a vacant building at 528 Fulton St. until June 28 to either repair or demolish the structure. The building has been the source of a number of neighborhood and police complaints and is in a serious state of disrepair, said Ann Marie Townshend, city planner and community development director.
Townshend said if the owners of the property, listed as Freddie Wilson, Ranae Barlow and others do not repair or demolish the building by the June 28 target date, the city will tear it down and place a lien for the work on the property.
Townshend also presented a property at 92 Orchard Ave. as a dangerous building slated for renovation or demolition, but the property owner, Juan M. Collazo, told council he has obtained a demolition permit and intends to remove the building shortly. Council agreed to table the matter for two weeks by which time, if the property has been demolished, the matter would be considered moot.
Council members also held a lengthy debate on City Manager Scott Koenig's proposal to hire a recruiting agency to find a new city electric director. Koenig proposed spending up to $60,000 for the recruitment effort.
This idea was challenged on several fronts, with some council members objecting to the cost and suggesting the city instead place ads in several trade publications in the effort to attract applicants.
Koenig countered by saying considerable expertise in the electric utility field is needed as the city considers the fate of its electricity generating and distribution system. Relying on want ads, though initially less expensive could be counterproductive if they don't reach candidates with the right qualifications.
"It pains me to spend this much to recruit," Koenig said. "But if you look at the future of the utility, we have major issues to address. I think even if we spend $30,000 to $60,000 on this, if we get the right candidate, that's money well spent."
Ultimately, council agreed to hire Aerotek Corporation of Wayne, Pa., by a 5 to 3 vote, with council members Sean Lynn, Adam Perza and William Hare voting no.
Council also set 7:30 p.m., Monday, June 10 as the date for a public hearing on the city's proposed electric fund budget. The session will be held in Council chambers at Dover City Hall.