A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Albany relations panel looks for a mission

Written March 22nd, 2021 by Hasso Hering

Albany’s council and human relations commission talk about the commission’s mission Monday.

The city of Albany has had a “human relations commission” since 2007. Last year it blew up in discord, and now the city council is trying to write down what the newly constituted commission is supposed to do and why it exists.

Mayor Alex Johnson II and councilors have appointed six new members to join Stephanie Newton, the volunteer commission’s lone holdover member and chair. Monday they all met via Zoom for the second time to try to come up with language the council could use to amend the ordinance that created the panel.

They didn’t get anywhere but agreed a small group of council and commission members and city staff would give it a try.

In 2017, after some controversy, the council changed the city code to say the commission should “strive for actions that lead to positive and respectful relations committing to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the community.”

Last month, Greg Hamann, the retired president of Linn-Benton Community College, facilitated a council and commission conversation about the panel’s mission. As a result, he proposed language saying the panel was established “to foster and support an intentionally inclusive community, expanding the foundation of what we share in common by embracing the richness of resources that are afforded us though our diversity.”

What does that murky wording mean, Newton and Councilwoman Bessie Johnson wanted to know. But Councilwoman Matilda Novak liked it.

Juan Meave, one of the new commission members, said he wants the panel to be “empowered,” and he proposed that its members come up with wording. Councilor Johnson, however, wanted to know just what the panel would be “empowered” to do.

The city code still says the commission’s job “will not include the investigation or sanctioning of individual acts of unlawful or discriminatory behavior.”

The council set up this commission in 2007 in a compromise to calm an uproar over a private citizen’s proposal to name a section of Timber Linn Park for the Hispanic community.

Since then, according to its monthly minutes available online, the panel has listened to occasional complaints but mostly dealt with routine business such as reporting on events its members attended.

One time, years ago, the commission entertained someone’s proposal to have the city issue ID cards to undocumented aliens who could not obtain state driver’s licenses. Nothing came of that proposal.

Part of the panel’s charge has been to recommend to the council actions that would foster harmony, racial or otherwise. If they’ve ever made a recommendation of that kind, other than condemning the rare act of vandalism by some anonymous bigot, I can’t remember it. (hh)

7 responses to “Albany relations panel looks for a mission”

  1. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    It’s time to discard the “can’t we all get along” approach. It’s time for empowerment.

    The progressive in me is screaming “Albany Truth Commission” to provide a forum to air victim grievances and enforce perp accountability, including a hard finding of guilt or, on rare occasions, innocence.

    The scope of the ATC would cover both hate crimes and hate incidents, as defined by the city, including the violent use of words that offend.

    The Albany Truth Commission should be hierarchical with political appointees controlled by the city council to ensure the application of consistent truthiness.

    This could probably be done with no more than 10 additional city employees, including a couple of attorneys, funded by a new water and “truth” fee.

  2. Cheryl P says:

    “to foster and support an intentionally inclusive community, expanding the foundation of what we share in common by embracing the richness of resources that are afforded us though our diversity.”

    You should talk to Greg about what really happened at LBCC with it’s ‘diversity’ program that ultimately excluded the majority of the population. And talk on the QT to current and former staff about the daily ‘diversity’ emails.

  3. Ron Green says:

    For a first step, how about establishing a discussion of white supremacy throughout the history of “Western Civilization,” and how it has shaped our world in ways we still don’t even notice. Albany and most of the PNW is fertile ground for such discussion.

  4. John Hartman says:

    I was appointed to the Human Relations commission in 2007/08 by then Mayor Konopa. I attended commission sessions for about a half year. At the last commission meeting I attended, one of the topics up for discussion had to do with the Albany PD and how the department was dealing with minority community issues, specifically with police interaction and motor vehicle stops.

    There had been a rash of stories dealing with the topic of police stops and intimations of the police and “driving while brown” accusations. On this particular day, the then-Chief of Albany PD was testifying before the Commission on a variety of topics.
    I asked whether the City had collected any statistics regarding the number of Latino-vehicle stops versus any other racial sub-groups. The Commission Chair and all the other members in session could almost be heard to gasp. The silence was deafening.

    Someone eventually muttered that Albany PD did not track ethnicities and the consensus amongst the then-largely-white commission membership (there may have been one Hispanic member) was that the Albany PD was not likely to start collecting such data. When I pressed the issue a bit further, wondering how the City could possibly address the substance of the complaints without accurate data collection, the antagonism and the dreadful silence by the rest of the Commission members spoke volumes. Understanding that anybody who dared address issues of this nature was unwelcome, I resigned my position on the commission. I understand this is old news and that the current Commission is above this sort of blissful ignorance.

    The point? In Hering’s column, he strikes a note of imagined fear. Fear that the NEW and Commission might have some authority to help correct the issues related to human rights in Albany.

    Perhaps there is something there to Hering’s view – especially if you side with those who would deny equal treatment under the law for all. All I know, from first hand experience, is that the greater danger is a Strictly-For-Show Commission denuded of any ability to create positive change. If that is what Hering seeks, then we might just as well disband the Human Rights Commission and stop pretending Albany is a safe haven for all.

    • Bill Kapaun says:

      Maybe if they drove better there wouldn’t be an issue.

      • Bill J. says:

        How do you know that they are poor drivers if there’s no data to determine how often they’re stopped?

      • Josh F Mason says:

        Spoken like the average conservative privileged white American man with a splitting world view in defense of the preservation of bigotry and inequality.


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