City's Human Rights Commission fields complaints, honors citizens

Posted: Monday, February 21, 2000

The city's Human Rights Commission is looking to honor two people in the community who have been involved in furthering human rights.

The nine-member volunteer panel is appointed by the Juneau Assembly to address unwarranted discrimination.

``Every year in late spring or early summer we honor individuals who have worked diligently for the cause of human rights,'' said the Rev. Wilson Valentine, rector of St. Brendan's Episcopal Church. ``And right now we're soliciting nominations.''

Nominations in the past have come from a variety of groups, including state legislators, Native groups and Juneau's church congregations.

The commission was born in the midst of controversy in 1992, Valentine said, and originally was to have had subpoena powers, a staff, a budget and considerable authority.

``But there were a lot of very conservative people who thought it was going to be a board for gay rights and liberals,'' he said.

The group did get launched, but with a sunset clause and without budget or subpoena powers. Nowadays the commission's role is primarily one of education and mediation in conflicts involving discrimination, abuse, and hiring and renting practices.

The commission gets across-the-board complaints on its hot line. ``Domestic violence is the big thing,'' Valentine said, followed by discrimination in housing and racial discrimination.

A member of the board responds with an initial contact and eventually the incident is discussed with the board in executive session. And, yes, mediation does work, Valentine said.

The commission meets at 6:30 today in room 211 of the Municipal Building. On the agenda is the upcoming honors brunch and a discussion of the United Nations declaration on human rights.

Right now the commission is short a member and area residents interested in furthering human rights by serving on the board are encouraged to apply to assembly member Cathy Munoz, who chairs the appointing committee.

The board represents a broad cross-section of the community, Valentine said, and includes Episcopal and Methodist clerics, a university professor, a homemaker, a state administration employee and a youth services worker.

Residents who want to communicate a concern to the commission can call the human rights hot line at 586-5206. Recorded messages are confidential and checked on a daily basis. Individuals may also write to the commission care of the city clerk's or city manager's office. Written messages are forwarded, unopened, to the commission and are also held in confidence.

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