Civil Rights Commission, ordinance introduced

At the Sept. 26 council meeting, an ordinance was introduced to create a Civil Rights Commission for the town. The commission is spearheaded by the Human Services Subcommittee of Civil Rights, which includes Chair Leticia Fraga, Elizabeth Bidwell Bates, Larry Spruill, John Heilner and Tommy Parker.

It took the subcommittee two years of research, speaking with stakeholders and planning to ready the ordinance for council. It was tabled at a meeting in April for certain wrinkles its members pointed out to council. At Monday’s meeting, the subcommittee said they were still working with the administration to iron out certain policies and procedures they didn’t think were up to standards.

“We want to ensure that a process is established that is accessible, welcoming and fair for everyone,” Fraga said.

If the ordinance is approved after public hearing Oct. 24, the commission would act as an advisory body serving individuals who have complaints or concerns about unfair or discriminatory treatment. According to the ordinance, the commission’s nine appointed members, in addition to living in Princeton, must have experience in resolving discrimination complaints.

“It [the commission] is making sure the residents of Princeton have somewhere to go and someone that’s gonna listen to them. You’d be surprised of how many concerns there are in town. Some of them may be small to a lot of us, but to someone that’s being treated unfairly – it’s something that becomes extremely, extremely damaging in their everyday life,” said Council President Lance Liverman.

The Civil Rights Commission, or “Joint Commission on Civil Rights,” as it was originally called, was established in 1968 and, according to the subcommittee, functioned effectively for more than 30 years to to provide education and outreach, coordinate community dialogues and conduct conflict resolution sessions to help many resolve their grievances.

“For me, I’d like to see this implemented,” Liverman continued. “This has over time served us well. We have example after example of how many times we’ve saved the town all kinds of fees and embarrassment and everything else by just working with people and trying to bring two entities together. It’s a positive step.”

According to the ordinance, the duties and responsibilities of the Civil Rights Commission will be to work among individuals and groups to eliminate discrimination, to develop community education programs that foster open dialogue about race relations, to recommend ways of improving or initiating municipal programs and to make recommendations to the mayor and council regarding policies, procedures and programs to prevent and eliminate discrimination.

“I personally am thrilled that we are nearing the point that all our work will come to fruition. I am confident that all our effort vested in this will eventually result in something that is positive for our community,” Fraga said. “In the years that I’ve lived in Princeton, even before I was on the commission – being out in the community and talking to individuals –  this is something that we need and it can’t come soon enough.”

About Erica Chayes Wida

Erica Chayes Wida is a writer, mom, and complete zealot when it comes to poetry, paella and globe collections. After graduating with a degree in Anthropology from UCLA, Erica moved to Italy where the seasons and old architecture inspired her journey back to the East Coast. Since then, she and her husband have created a nest egg locally and, over time, developed a rather grand love affair with the town of Princeton. Erica is senior editor at The Princeton Sun and enjoys fulfilling her Princeton affections on a daily basis. | View all posts by Erica Chayes Wida