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Mayor defends human rights panel proposal
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Kim Adkins, mayor of Martinsville

Sunday, January 22, 2012

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Mayor Kim Adkins said Saturday she expects if a human rights and relations commission is established in Martinsville, there will be an agreement with the Virginia Human Rights Council so there would be no duplication of services.

She also said the city administration is gathering information about the cost of a commission, but she thinks it would be "minimal."�

Redundancy and added expense to taxpayers are among the objections raised in a letter from the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce, which said Saturday it is "strongly opposed" to the creation of an "unnecessary" local human relations commission.

As for the chamber's contention that "creation by city council of yet another layer of bureaucracy, red tape and regulations (would) negatively impact the climate for economic growth in the city," Adkins said other areas of the state and nation with similar human rights commissions are growing, so the chamber's position "may not be necessarily true."�

She wrote in a response to the chamber letter Saturday that factors outside of the control of the city have contributed to high unemployment and poverty locally, and she said she remains committed to the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. and infrastructure investments for job creation and retention.

"I further support an inclusive community working together to move our community toward economic recovery," she wrote. "I favor growth, entrepreneurship, enterprise and wealth creation, but also favor greater social justice and government playing a role in bringing about this."�

As for questions about the need for a local commission, Adkins referred to a document in city council's Jan. 10 agenda package that makes these points, among others:

One of council's "ongoing annual strategic priorities states to "˜Ensure a government that is efficient, transparent, affordable, inclusive and collaborative. ...

"One part of this strategic priority has been more of a challenge to address - "˜ensuring inclusiveness.' A few years ago, council did formally adopt the National League of Cities initiative "˜Working Toward Inclusive Communities,' Signage was even made, but with busy schedules and pressing economy, the initiative faded and signage was never displayed publicly as planned,'" the council document states.

"Fast forward a few years: In August 2010, Westside Community residents advocated for a community center on the Westside, citing the Westside is "˜like a forgotten part of Martinsville.' While the development of the center had merit and warranted a comprehensive review, as approved by council in the adoption of its strategic priorities pertaining to community development, the fact that a portion of the city of Martinsville reported to be forgotten resonated with council. As discussions continued, it became apparent a more honest dialogue on race, class, gender and etc. needed to occur within the city," it added.

In March 2011, council took formal action by forming the Human Relations Advisory Committee, which recommended the creation of the commission earlier this month.

Adkins also said it would be "a good thing" if human rights and relations disputes could be solved at the local level without escalating to the state or federal level.

Also, a local commission could be a repository of information to refer to the state level if needed, she said.

Commission opponents primarily are concerned with the resolution committee, Adkins said, calling that "a small portion of the commission's role." That committee would be able to investigate discrimination claims and recommend them for mediation or to the commission for possible referral to state or federal authorities.

On Wednesday, the Martinsville Human Relations Advisory Committee stood firm that the resolution committee remain part of the commission. Advisory committee member Veraine Randolph said not having a resolution committee "takes away the meat of the commission" in terms of its purpose.

When asked Saturday about Randolph's comment, Adkins said she feels the resolution committee is "not the main purpose of the commission." She also said there were "a lot of heightened emotions" when the advisory committee met.

"The chamber's position statement of supporting "˜initiatives which promote and foster good relations among all segments of our society,' is the primary purpose of the formation of the commission. This component is being lost," Adkins wrote.

Besides the resolution committee, the other two standing action subcommittees proposed for the commission are the equity and inclusion committees, according to the proposed bylaws:

"¢ The goal of the equity committee is: "Develop community capacity to address challenges and opportunities, identified by the commission, in the areas of race, class, government accountability and responsiveness, and conflicts arising from cultural differences."�

It would do such things as: 1) offer education and training, community discussion or speaker series on topics dealing with equity, inclusiveness, racial reconciliation and poverty reduction; 2) improve relations and foster dialogue among various sections of the city; and 3) identify and dispel misconceptions and falsehoods among communities.

"¢ The goal of the inclusion committee is to "ensure open and accountable government that hears and values all voices." It would offer and support activities that build inclusiveness; advocate for community strategies to reduce poverty; educate governmental employees and citizens on laws and policies fostering greater transparency in government.

Adkins added that at council's next meeting, she hopes "the community will come to a solution that supports the intent of the formation of a human relations entity, which is primarily as the chamber stated to "˜promote and foster good relations among all segments of our city.'"�

She estimated she has received about 50 calls on the issue of creating a commission, filling up her home and cell phone voice mails. She described it as "more phone calls than I've received on any other issue."�

She estimated that about 75 percent of the calls have been from people with strong opinions, pretty evenly divided for and against. The other 25 percent generally have been "thoughtful inquiries," seeking more information or explanations.


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