Dover City Council President David Bonar has appointed seven members to the Human Relations Commission.
Dover’s Human Relations Commission has undergone a complete turnover in membership, an action that coincides with City Council’s desire the panel refocus its efforts on helping city neighborhoods work better together.
Seven of the nine seats on the panel were filled by unanimous vote on the council’s consent agenda during its March 17 meeting. Items on the consent agenda have been agreed to beforehand as being non-controversial and are not debated unless a council member wishes to do so.
Despite concerns from some city residents, council last year reduced the commission’s membership from 15 to nine, with two representatives from each of the city’s four districts and an at-large member.
All of the appointments of the former commission members were due to end in February.
“We felt everyone’s term was expiring and that we’d take a new tack in appointing members who perhaps would adhere more closely to the guidelines of the city charter in dealing with issues that come before the Human Relations Commission,” explained City Council President David Bonar.
“We were happy to have had the services of the people we had in the past,” Bonar added, “but we felt getting some fresh thoughts was a good idea and so we selected the people we selected.”
None of the former commission members, including Ellen Wasfi and Dr. Phyllis Edamatsu, who were on the commission when it was formed in 2002, were named to new terms.
Perhaps the most recognized name on the new commission is that of Cecil Wilson, a retired teacher and principal and past president of both the NAACP Central Delaware Branch and the Delaware NAACP State Conference.
Former Dover City Council members Eugene Ruane and James McGiffin also were named to the panel. Other members include S. Renee Smith, Theodore Henderson, Courtney Stewart and Kenneth Roach. Two others will be named shortly, Bonar said.
Wilson feels two major issues will be tackling the roots of crime in the city and fostering a healthy relationship between police and Dover residents.
“The crime situation here really is ugly. That’s the truth,” Wilson said. “Right now, we want to make sure the community and the police department are united.”
Ruane, who voted to set up the commission while a council member, said that while the panel has been criticized in the past for extending its reach beyond its council mandate, he’s looking more toward the future.
“I’ve always viewed it in a positive light in terms of providing a mechanism for intercommunity relations between individuals and groups from diverse backgrounds and neighborhoods,” he said. Better communication is the key to resolving or even preventing disputes, Ruane added.
“These types of things shouldn’t happen if there’s communication already established and if people keep up to date on activities within the city,” he said.
In addition to reducing the commission’s membership and having two members from each council district, City Council ordered that the commission meet five times a year instead of monthly.
Under city codes, the panel is charged with promoting fairness and respect for all, monitoring community relations, offering ways of preventing and solving issues among the communities, and finding the means to anticipate and relieve any tensions arising from conflicts within groups in the city.
Bonar said he and other council members felt the former commission had strayed from that edict.
“We felt there was a tendency in the past to look at issues better served by the state HRC, and we felt a smaller number of people on the commission would make it easier to do business and handle the complaints that came before them,” he said.
The next meeting of the Dover Human Relations Commission will be held at 5:30 p.m., March 25, at City Hall. Members of the public are encouraged to attend.