The absolute last thing Colorado Springs really needs is to give the Human Relations Commission another chance. Ralph Routon's column (Between the Lines, June 10) was called "HRC tells us about Council." Please allow me to tell you about the HRC.
In 1993, a week after being elected to City Council, I should have guessed right away that the HRC was the city's bastard child of commissions. When my more-tenured Council colleagues divvied out the liaison jobs (each member volunteers or is assigned as liaison to one or more of the city's boards and commissions after each city election), I was appointed liaison to the Human Relations Commission because no one else volunteered. I should have suspected that this was not necessarily an honor or a privilege based on the laughter, rolled eyeballs and deep sighs of relief from my colleagues who were not assigned to the HRC. I would quickly learn why.
The HRC turned out to be the most dysfunctional farce of a city board that I experienced in my eight years on Council. Nothing could have prepared me for it. As with most of the city's volunteer board appointments, the HRC members were selected after interviewing with Council. Right-wing nut? Appointed. Left-wing nut? Appointed. Gay sympathizer? You're in. Homophobic? Ditto. I don't recall any definitive selection criteria. Unfortunately, HRC members' hidden socio-political agendas usually surfaced only after they were appointed. If the HRC's purpose is to deal with the "...narrow-minded people who still spew racism, discrimination, and intolerance on a whim," I contend that the HRC was an incubator for the very same.
HRC meetings were always the best show in town. Rarely was a formal agenda adhered to, because all members of the commission came prepared with their own. Heated arguments were routine. It was not uncommon for members to get up and walk out when they became angry. Although meetings were always open to the public, it was a rare occasion when anyone actually came to ask for help with something for which the HRC might have been qualified to offer assistance. Come to think of it, I cannot recall what the HRC might have actually been qualified to do.
As liaison, my initial role was simply to attend HRC meetings and observe. I reported back, but Council seemingly had little interest in knowing what the HRC was up to. It quickly became clear that individual HRC members used the commission as a platform to make their personal social agendas publicly known to the community, and the local media were only too glad to oblige them. I attempted to intervene and bring some sense of structure and purpose to the HRC, but it became clear that my efforts were not wanted, and Council probably could not have cared less.
When it became painfully apparent that the HRC served no real benefit to anyone, and had become a source of embarrassment, I asked Council to redefine the HRC's function or pull the plug on it. It unceremoniously disbanded the commission when no one from Council or the HRC itself could identify its role in municipal government.
If resurrecting the HRC means this commission will simply pick up where the previous one left off, I have to ask, "Why?" If the HRC's mission and charter are the same as the previous version, why would the city again choose to subject itself to the aggravation and discomfiture? Personnel grievances of city staff are best dealt with by the city's own internal human resources department. Being a referee of social disputes and grievances among the community at large is best left for trained counselors, social services, corporate HR staff and perhaps clergy (our community has plenty).
A "Human Relations Commission" may sound like a feel-good idea, and it will look good on the city website's homepage. But as proven 17 years ago, it has no legitimate role in municipal government and that likely will be proven again. The precursor to the new HRC's demise will be when the more-tenured Councilors appoint an unsuspecting rookie as their liaison after next April's election, because none of them want the job themselves.
Bill Guman, a local businessman, served on the Colorado Springs City Council from 1993-2001.
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