The prospect of change to Dover’s Human Relations Commission was the result of Monday night’s meeting of the city’s Legislative, Finance and Administration Committee, held at City Hall.
Panel members unanimously voted to trim the commission’s membership from 15 to nine persons and to change its meeting schedule from monthly to quarterly sessions, plus one additional meeting. The commissioners also could call special meetings if the need arises.
The panel also would be required to meet in council chambers at City Hall and would submit quarterly report of its activities to council.
The changes must be put into the form of an ordinance, which will be considered by the full City Council, to include a public hearing, meaning final action may not take place until late August or early September.
The commission has had a history of losing members and has rarely been fully staffed; currently there are eight sitting commissioners on the panel. The group also has been accused of straying from its mission, which is to provide the means for Dover’s citizens to resolve human-relations issues in a calm and productive way.
In the past, there have been reports of divisive disagreements between commission members and complaints the panel has acted on items outside that mission, such as calling on City Council to take a position on same-sex marriage. Former commission members also have accused City Council of interfering in commission business or ignoring it altogether.
This was the second meeting called to discuss changes to the commission; it was continued from a July 8 session where Chairman Sean M. Lynn asked current members of the commission to come and present their thoughts to the committee.
A number of city residents filled the Council chamber, both to speak in favor of the changes and others who disputed the need for change. Of its current lineup, Justina Brewington and Ellen Wasfi were on hand to speak on the commission’s behalf, with Wasfi giving committee members a listing of its significant accomplishments over just the past four years.
Bishop Gregory Gordon, who has frequently championed the mission of the HRC, agreed with the proposal to reduce the commission membership to nine, but said each district in the city should be equally represented. Persons of different ethnic backgrounds and of different professions should be selected, he said. Representatives from organizations such as United Way and the NAACP also should participate, Gordon said.
Afterward, commission chair Roy Sudler Jr. said he concurred with the idea of reducing the commission’s membership but did not agree with a requirement all commission meetings be held in City Hall.
“A lot of community members are intimidated by the council chamber environment,” Sudler said. This prevents people from expressing their ideas and opinions as freely as they would if the meetings were held elsewhere.
Page 2 of 2 - The commission has frequently met in venues such as the Boys & Girls Club, which promotes greater community participation, Sudler said.
Commission meetings also should be kept at their current monthly schedule, Sudler added, as a way of handling the group’s workload.