June 12, 2024

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Human Rights Commission asks to advise council before the policy decision is made

7 min read
Human Rights Commissioner Blake Burrell: "We're assessing...impacts of this policy decision after it's made, instead of being advisors while the policy decision is made."

Eugene’s Human Rights Commission hopes to share its thoughts on city policy before the decision gets made, instead of after. At the Nov. 21 meeting:

[00:00:10] Commission Chair Scott Lemons: We did have our quarterly meeting with the mayor and the city manager. Vice chair (Thomas) Hiura was there in the room with me to sit down with City Manager (Sarah) Medary and Mayor (Lucy) Vinis, as well as (city staff) Drae (Charles) and Fabio (Andrade).

[00:00:25] One request that came out of this meeting was that we do more coordination with city council to align our work with their work so we’re not actively working against something that they might be going for.

[00:00:37] And that point was taken as it should be, because there are appropriate times for us to not work in the same way as the city council. Power does need to be checked. But it was mentioned that we might be able to present before it gets to the city council’s table.

[00:00:55] John Q: Scott invited comments from Vice Chair Thomas Hiura.

[00:00:58] Commission Chair Scott Lemons: I would like Vice Chair to pop in because I know we covered a lot in a little bit.

[00:01:04] Commission Vice Chair Thomas Hiura: Yeah, we sure did. It was a good speedy hour, really. One thing that I got the chance to mention briefly was that, you know, this budget that we have to allocate for event requests is, I think, money that’s really well spent. I basically just said, I know that there’s always pressure around the budget to cut things. And so I really, really wanted to just put in a word to say, this is money that I see impacting the community very directly, very efficiently.

[00:01:30] But we did cover a lot of topics, as far as the city’s unhoused response; as far as the use of the two-hour notices. Similar to what you said, we are not the city council, they’re not the Human Rights Commission. So we’re going to have slightly different views on things. Sometimes we’re going to need to play an advocacy role.

That doesn’t mean that we need to be fully aligned with what anyone envisions on specific policy issues, but just trying to make it so that the calendars of what we’re trying to advocate for are better in alignment with what their work sessions are going to be about so we can potentially be much more engaged in those conversations at the right time.

[00:02:10] Commission Chair Scott Lemons: And as Vice Chair Hiura alluded to it, it was mostly about the unhoused response. And as we see across the whole West Coast, there is a movement to try to reestablish, I guess, how city walkways and parks used to be before COVID.

[00:02:28] Their biggest red flag that went up is that we are so focused right now on the unhoused response, and my response to them was really, like, we’re just trying to make sure that they do it in a way that respects human rights and maintains the city of Eugene’s spot as a leader…

[00:02:43] We all are under the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, their case is now having to go to the Supreme Court. It’s Grants PassGrants Pass v. United States. And it is really strange to see, like, the city of Seattle and Portland and San Francisco all sign amicus briefs with a small conservative town.

[00:02:59] So this is obviously something that every municipality is trying to figure out, and that’s why I feel like the Human Rights Commission is in a unique spot to make sure that it’s figured out thoroughly and in a way that respects human rights.

[00:03:14] The whole point of it really was: The Human Rights Commission can be more effective in our work if we align a little more with the city council’s agenda, not with their priorities, but with their agenda.

[00:03:26] Commissioner Blake Burrell: Something that I’ve really been thinking about is our role as an advisory body. And in other advisory positions that I’ve held, typically bodies seeking advice come to those advisors and ask questions.

[00:03:39] My mind kind of thinks about alignment in procedural pieces, relational pieces between our two bodies. And what does that communication and engagement look like? I think a really explicit example of early engagement in a policy discussion which our workgroup would have really enjoyed participation, were the various work sessions surrounding House Bill 3115, where our workgroup was exploring these questions as a body.

[00:04:07] We were discussing it in Human Rights Commission meetings, but we never had a dialogue with City Council about our thoughts around this. We were never engaged in that process or those conversations.

[00:04:18] If we are an advisor, and if those topics of conversation intersect with our work plan, we do need to work on how the procedure of engagement really works in real time. And we can’t be doing that after the policy decision is made, which, that’s a lot where I feel our homelessness and poverty work group is.

[00:04:34] We’re assessing what are the impacts of this policy decision after it’s made, instead of being advisors while the policy decision is made.

[00:04:46] So I think there’s a lot of opportunity here. And I’m really actually excited that this topic of alignment has come up because engagement and conversation can really be a challenge.

[00:04:58] City Councilor Lyndsie Leech: As the council and Human Rights Commission liaison, I’m more than happy to be meeting with leadership and really diving in on the statements that you might want me to present to council. And I’m very much in support of representing the HRC at the council level.

[00:05:18] I’ve also been advocating for this triple bottom line: How are we approaching every single decision made with an equity lens? And the perspective of the HRC is absolutely something that I want as part of all of those decisions.

[00:05:34] How we get to that space, I’m still working on that. But I very much appreciate all of what you just said, Commissioner Burrell and Commissioner Lemons.

[00:05:49] Fabio Andrade: The policy discussions usually happen at meetings because councilors will not have a conversation as a group with the commission outside of the meetings because there are some limitations on public meetings law. So those conversations happen at the council meetings.

[00:06:03] And the HRC can have a representative at those meetings. And usually the HRC rep speaks first, so you don’t get in line and wait for everyone to go to public comments. There is some time reserved for the commissioners to provide their opinion on an issue that is before council.

[00:06:23] John Q: Staff was asked to pay attention to work going on behind the scenes.

[00:06:27] Fabio Andrade: Sometimes we do not have enough time to get HRC to comment and then get it to council before a topic is in the council agenda. So the recommendation is for us as a staff to be paying attention, because before an item is ready to be included in the council agenda, the staff has already been working on that for a few months.

[00:06:49] So we’ll internally find a way to know which talks will be of interest to the HRC, and then try to bring a staff person who is working on that topic to present and hear your concerns and opinions. That way it can be incorporated in whatever is presented to council.

[00:07:05] That doesn’t prevent HRC from sending someone to the council meeting if HRC has an opinion to express to council before they vote.

[00:07:16] Or you can send something in writing. That opinion is the opinion of the HRC, something that has been discussed at a meeting and approved. Usually it’s in writing and that person goes and reads it to make sure that they are representing the opinion of the commission.

[00:07:32] So that was very common until 2019. And as we went to pandemic, those processes slowed down a bit. That is something that is available and we will try to coordinate a little bit better to have things on the agenda and let you know, we are expecting this on council agenda.

[00:07:50] Commissioner Thomas Hiura: Lin Woodrich from Active Bethel Community speaks at every single city council meeting on behalf of Bethel… My point is that, just imagine if we did that, you know, like, the connection at least between the community that watches those meetings and what we are up to would automatically be increased. I would love to see us participate more.

[00:08:23] John Q: Fabio Andrade says the staff will work internally to alert the HRC in time to act in its advisory role on human rights. Councilor Lyndsie Leech will bring the Human Rights Commissions’ views before council as part of a triple bottom line that considers equity. And human rights commissioners may start joining Bethel’s Lin Woodrich as regular speakers at the public forums.

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