Meetings and Minutes
Virginia Human Rights Council
Friday, July 26, 2002
James Monroe Room, Omni Charlottesville Hotel
Council Members Present: Max Guggenheimer, Jr., Chairman; William Barnes; Douglas Boulter; Debra Hansley; Daniel Jenkins; Thomas Knox; Maria Lopez-Otin; Gloria Markus; and Christopher Peace.
Staff Present: Sandra D. Norman, Assistant Director; Timothy L. Wilson, Administration/Operations Manager; and Gerald B. Snead II, Chief Investigator.
Guest Present: Ondray T. Harris, Assistant Attorney General.
I. Introductions and Welcome
The Chairman called the meeting to order with the required quorum at 9:00 a.m. He explained that the Director, Dietra Y. Trent, was not present because she was representing the agency at the International Organization of Human Rights Agencies (IAOHRA) of which the Council is a member. The Governor has instructed all agency heads to fully participate in their professional organizations and to position Virginia as the host state for annual conferences. It is tentative that in 2004, IOHRA will hold its annual conference in Virginia through Ms. Trent's efforts while serving on IAOHRA's planning commission.
II. Adoption of Minutes
Member Lopez-Otin moved to adopt the minutes from the May 18, 2002 meeting. The motion was seconded and carried.
III. Chairman's Report
The Chairman gave an overview of the Strategic Planning Workshop held May 18, 2002. He reviewed the goals and strategies discussed. The Chairman then asked for discussion on the workshop. Member Peace asked if the "canned speech" had been developed which was one of the items discussed at the workshop. Ms. Norman responded that the Director drafted a copy for the board, which would be, addressed it in the Director's report. Chairman Guggenheimer commented that two Council members had already initiated another goal by visiting a local human rights commission in northern Virginia where they met with the Director.
Members Boulter and Lopez-Otin reported that they met with Mr. Michael Cash of the Fairfax County Human Rights Commission on July 12, 2002. Some points of interest included: staff of nineteen (19) - thirteen (13) investigators of which nine of them are attorneys; has a case back log of approximately 500; takes approximately 422 days to process a case; there were no statistics on complaint completions; the commission meets twice a month - of which one meeting is to hear appeals; all members of the commission hear appeals; an appeal hearing is approximately 75 minutes; handles fair housing complaints; and sponsors an annual banquet where various persons and organizations of the county and surrounding area are invited to attend. The commission is presently working to address the issues of sexual preference; source of income in regards to housing discrimination, and genetic discrimination. Because of the Dillon rule, none of the referendums can be amended to their local statute without approval from the General Assembly.
The commission has a training program for their new commissioners that include their attendance to a corporate seminar with the Director of the commission. At the seminar, various human rights professionals give presentations. As for outreach, there are five (5) activities in which the commission participates: (1) an information booth at the county fair; (2) conduct housing seminars; (3) work with corporate diversity councils (usually from small companies with twenty-five employees or less); (4) outreach presentations to the community; and (5) the annual awards banquet.
Fairfax County is the second wealthiest county in the United States and there is tremendous contrast in the financial resources of the local commission and the state agency. The Commission aims to investigate/process a case within 270 days. Mr. Boulter recommended that our agency have a formatted training program for newly appointed Council members. The commissioners currently have suggested two projects to the staff - (1) facilitate focus groups to discuss issues within the county; and (2) sponsor a mini-conference on minority relations within the county between the students and educators. These projects are recognized as part of their outreach initiative. Mr. Boulter also commented on their appeal process outreach programs.
The Chairman thanked Members Boulter and Lopez-Otin for their report and requested that they submit it in writing and send it to Ms. Norman. The Chairman asked each person for their comments on the report and how we could eliminate the problem of the locals and the Council not working together.
Ms. Norman stated that although the Council and the local commissions have their own distinct guidelines and statutes, a mutual relationship between the agencies and the Council is shared. The Council and the commissions have a good networking relationship. As staff, she was glad to hear about the number of investigators Fairfax County has in contrast to the Council's two (2) investigators. She noted that the Council's investigators handle the entire state and do an outstanding job. She also added that Fairfax County Human Rights Commission is the 'mother' agency of Virginia and is currently the strongest and most capable commission in the state. The Council and the other local commissions were set up using Fairfax County as its model. She concluded with a point of clarification specifying that Fairfax County does not use the Commonwealth Attorney office for legal guidance, but rather the County Attorney's office.
The Chairman added that the primary initiative of the Council was to define the relationships of our agency with the local commissions in which the report was presented. This information should shed light on what could be done by the state when assisting localities with setting up local commissions.
Member Markus commented, as a point of observation, that in the state of Ohio the local commissions reported directly to the state commission as field offices, unlike how this system is set up in Virginia. She noted that one item of concern is public knowledge of our agency. She suggested that the Council may want to use public service announcements (PSAs) as an outreach effort.
Member Jenkins concurred and added that the Council should identify methods of cohesiveness when forming local commissions to reduce whatever barriers needed to have the local commissions consistent with the State Council.
Member Boulter had asked Mr. Cash about statistics within the county and he was unable to provide the statistics at that time. Mr. Boulter stated that the Council could assist the local commissions with case statistics in Virginia and that the Director and her staff had been working on this initiative. He also stated that he would provide for the Board a copy of information he submitted to the Director.
The Chairman then asked Member Barnes if he could visit the Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission and present a similar report to the Council? Mr. Barnes responded that he had visited the Commission and reported that the staff is made up of city employees that volunteer their services. The commission has very much the same concerns as our agency regarding the need for its own staff and a budget.
Member Knox commented on the public forum. He acknowledged that it was good to hear the various concerns raised by the public. In addition, he felt the Forum was a good idea, however, he felt that it should be centered on those areas that the Council's jurisdiction covers. He suggested that the next forum focus on a topic by posing a question of "Have you been discriminated against in the workplace?" He stated that most of the presenters seem to accept the suggestion from Council members to start a local commission to address their local concerns. He also asked if there is a template to assist them with that initiative?
Ms. Norman responded that there was a template from assistance given in the creation of the Newport News Human Rights Commission in the early 1990s. She will attempt to locate it and present it at the next meeting. This commission was advocated by a 'grassroots' organization, which lobbied their public officials. The public officials and the group sponsored public forums to discuss the creation of a local commission and invited our agency to provide support and define the barriers between the state and the local statutes. After brief discussion, Member Knox asked for a point of contact for the Newport News Commission and stated he would visit them and provide a report by the next Council meeting.
Member Hansley expressed that the Council members need to be more abreast of the agency's investigative process and regulations. After reviewing a couple of appeals, she learned a lot about the investigative process. She felt that being better acquainted with these items will help Council members with appeals and be more confident when addressing the public. The agency and the Council members together need to educate the public more about our services. She also encouraged the idea of working with small employers who normally do not have influential attorneys to assist them with employment situations.
Assistant Attorney General Harris commented that the Council should be discreet on what it advocates and should stay within the basis described in the Virginia Human Rights Act.
Member Boulter said he still was not keen on the public forum, but future forums should be focused only on the jurisdiction of the Council.
The Chairman remarked that overall the public forum was a success. Results vary from one forum to another.
Mr. Jenkins added that although a lot of the concerns heard last night did not apply to the Council, the Council itself can be a vehicle to get these concerns to the Governor. It is still important that the public has had an opportunity to be heard, which is seldom.
Ms. Hansley asked how the forum was promoted? Ms. Norman responded that invitations were mailed to the membership of the Charlottesville-Albermarle County Chamber of Commerce. Invitations were sent to each of the elected officials of the city of Charlottesville and the surrounding counties, the administrative staff and department heads of the University of Virginia (UVA), civic groups, and 'grassroots' organizations. Public notice was advertised by newspaper and the on internet. She and the Director met with the mayor of Charlottesville, various elected officials, and with one of the 'grassroots' organizations that has a membership of over five hundred (500) persons. Additionally, Member Jenkins made numerous contacts in Charlottesville.
Member Markus asked were the attendees, such as the presenters last night, clear on the mission of the agency? Ms. Norman responded that within the text of the invitations, it gave an overview of the agency's mission and an agency brochure was enclosed. In the meetings with the various civic and community organizations, the mission was explained thoroughly by the Director. She also stated that the Director in her opening statement included a clause of clarification about what the agency's mission was and that all concerns heard may not fall under the Council's jurisdiction. Primarily all of our presenters knew the limitations of the agency, yet they voiced their concerns to the Council as a vehicle to the Governor. Additionally, because of the on-sight visits, the Director was able to address the Governor's position on some of the questions that were raised such as the restoration of rights for felons.
Member Peace reiterated that the Council is a vehicle for the Governor to respond to issues that the Council itself may not have jurisdiction. The fact that the Council went to a community and held a public forum, gave a citizen an opportunity to voice concerns when he/she had exhausted all other means, and some change was perhaps made - that is a huge success. He concluded by asking if there were any positive results from the previous public forums? Ms. Norman gave about three examples from previous forums.
Member Lopez-Otin asked if the Governor will respond to all the concerns presented? If not, she did not want to give the citizens a false impression that the Governor would respond. Ms. Norman stated that she was not sure of how the Governor would respond, but that he will receive a transcript of the forum for review. Additionally, the forum's purpose did not promise a response but merely that the Governor would hear the concerns. Member Lopez-Otin also commented that the forum is a good initiative, yet making sure that it is promoted effectively with the Council's jurisdiction clarified to the public before presentations are made.
Member Barnes expressed to the Board that the Council may not be concentrating enough on the people. We should continue to listen to any citizens that will come. It is our job as state representatives to listen. The forum provided that opportunity and we listened to them. Most of the issues raised were ones we do not handle, but we refer to the proper agencies. Also last night we increased the visibility of the Council - an important accomplishment. We should all as individual board members help increase the visibility of the agency. Last night, helped to plant seeds for persons that do not have concerns over which the Human Rights Council has jurisdiction, yet it provided hope for organizing a local commission. The Board should not try to weed out the concerns beyond the Council's jurisdiction. It is those presenters who can lend support to our cause indirectly. They can refer others to the Council for assistance. Mr. Barnes concluded by congratulating the Council for the forum. He also suggested that the Council continue the forums and have at least two (2) each year and maintain the quarterly meetings.
Member Boulter concluded that most of the issues raised last night should be addressed by the legislature. The issues were: restoration of rights to former felons, cost of living wage increase, gay and lesbian rights, and the salary condition of public defenders. Our primary goal should be to address the Council's budget of $360,000.00. He questioned how the Council was going to serve those approximately 400 persons per year that file complaints with the agency? Second, no statistical data exists to show legislators our dilemma. Actually no human rights agency in Virginia knows the extent of the human rights problem in our state. Mr. Boulter has provided a plan of action to the Director of how to effectively collect data for analysis. He is also contemplating the Council conduct a state-wide public opinion poll and survey involving employment, promotions, and housing. He concluded that he would support a public forum if it is advertised to the presenters and the assembly that certain issues the Council has no jurisdiction to handle and its focus is primarily on the issues covered under the Council's statute.
There being no further discussion on the forum, it was the consensus of the Council members that when public forums are held in the future, they will help the agency's staff with its promotion. In addition, the next forum will focus on workplace discrimination issues.
Election of Vice Chairman
Member Jenkins moved that Member Lopez-Otin serve as Vice Chairman of the Council. The motion was seconded and carried.
The Chairman appointed members to the following committees:
Committee on Budget and Legislation
Debbie Hansley, Chairman (appointed by Council chairman)
Committee on Internal Rules
Daniel Jenkins, Chairman (elected by committee)
Scheduling of Meetings and Preparing of Agenda
After brief discussion, it was decided that the next quarterly meeting will be held in Richmond, Virginia, Saturday, November 9, 2002, from 9:30 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. with a working lunch. The agenda at this meeting will include:
(1) planning an agenda for both a quarterly meeting and a public forum in 2003, preferably in late March on a Thursday and Friday; the forum will be held in Fredericksburg, Virginia and Member Lopez-Otin will be the area's point of contact for the forum;
(2) reviewing the template on how to assist a locality with setting up a new local commission on human rights/relations ;
(4) Board training on investigative process with case examples conducted by staff members and the assistant attorney general -- training should be allotted for approximately 2 - 2 1/2 hours. The first training will be done on the Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act;
Mr. Harris requested that pertinent questions to be asked at the training session be turned into Sandra Norman prior to the meeting date for proper responses.
The Chairman will have a draft of the agenda mailed out for additional ideas and comments. Additionally, member Boulter suggested that the training sessions be videotaped to serve as a training mechanism for new members.
IV. Director's Report
The Assistant Director Norman gave the report in the absence of Director Trent.
Ms. Norman gave an overview of the new computer program called CDS installed by the EEOC to help the agency with case filing and tracking. She addressed the ideas that Member Boulter provided and stated that the system will allow the Council to track most of the statistics that he proposed. The system was installed during the first week of June 2002 and each staff member attended training. She stated that she was the primary operator and was still in the preliminary stages of operating it effectively.
Ms. Norman reported that State agencies received news that the state budget was still at a $200 million dollar shortfall. To date, agencies had not received news regarding additional cuts.
Copies of the Executive Agreement were given to each member and Ms. Norman stated that the agreement had been previously mailed to the Members. The agreement is a partnership with the Governor which outlines a list of goals that agencies have committed to achieve within this administration. There are no major changes to the document and most of the suggestions that Council members submitted are included. The Director has already started working on the goals in the agreement.
The Director has worked on the outreach initiatives which include: interacting with the local commissions; she served as a panelist at the Virginia Association of Human Rights Commissions annual conference; she is planning a Director's Brown Bag Luncheon to be held in September 2002; she is planning a diversity training workshop with the State NAACP in September 2002; she has met with various state legislators; she has met with the City of Richmond Attorney's office in regards to re-establishing the local Richmond Human Relations Commission. She has directed the staff to implement an investigator's tracking log which will detail a case longevity in the investigator's inventory, as well as, assist with tracking the six to nine month closure timeframe for each newly assigned cases. Ms. Norman asked the members to turn to page two in the Executive Agreement in the section entitled "Service and Efficency" along with the framework provided by Member Boulter. Also, she reported that Ms. Trent reimplemented the telephone log which will enable to the Council to track the types of calls that come into the agency and the call's disposition.
Investigator Ben Jones attended the EEOC's Technical Assistance Program Seminar (TAPS) in June, Chief investigator Snead will attend an EEOC training session in September, and Director Trent is currently attending the International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies this week.
At this time, Ms. Norman provided each member a copy of the "canned speech prepared by Ms. Trent. She stated that the Director has asked each Council member talk with his or her respective delegates and state senators about the agency. Because of Director Trent's networking with various legislators, several of them have referred their constituents to the agency for assistance.
She reported that the web site's hits have increased and there have been many compliments on the agency brochure. Member Boulter asked Ms. Norman to provide the web site inquiry listing so that he can use it for comparison.
Member Peace commended the Director for her hard work. Member Boulter added his thanks to the staff for arranging the forum and the meeting.
Gerald Snead and Ondray Harris gave an overview of the Council's investigative process. At the conclusion of this training, board members thanked them for their time and wanted different training sessions be included at every Council meeting. On behalf of the Director, Ms. Norman thanked Mr. Harris for taken time out of his busy schedule to be at the Forum and Board meeting.
There being no further business to discuss, the meeting was adjourned at 12:02 p.m.
Max Guggenheimer, Jr.