A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Human relations: Council puts panel ‘on hold’

Written September 21st, 2020 by Hasso Hering

Stephanie Newton, chair of the Albany Human Relations Commission, as she appeared on  GoToMeeting during Monday’s virtual council work session.

Albany’s Human Relations Commission appears to have crashed, brought down by disagreement on the meaning of concepts such as tolerance and respect for opposing views.

The seven-member volunteer board, created by the city council, has three vacancies, and one of the remaining four, Jo Rae Perkins, is a conservative Republican now busy running for the U.S. Senate.

Two of the commission members, Jessi Brenneman and Daniel Ropp, have just resigned. In emails to the city staff, they complained of not having their views respected by others on the panel. You can read their letters online, starting on page 398 of the council’s Sept. 23 agenda here.

The Sept. 22 meeting of the commission was canceled for lack of a quorum. At Monday’s virtual city council work session, commission Chair Stephanie Newton asked the council to appoint new members because she wants the panel to be able to move forward.

Each member of the commission is appointed by one council member or the mayor. Filling the current vacancies is up to Councilors Bessie Johnson, Rich Kellum and Mike Sykes. But they don’t sound inclined to do so.

“I’m not going to put anybody on there,” Kellum said. “It’s broken. Until the end of the year, it’s dead.”

There was a good deal of discussion, with councilors except for Dick Olsen more or less agreeing with Kellum. (You can get it all when the audio recording is posted under council meeting materials on the city’s website, cityofalbany.net.)

After about half an hour, the council unanimously passed a motion to put the commission “on hold.” Mayor Sharon Konopa suggested that at a future work session, the council review the commission’s bylaws and “provide direction.”

Whether that happens may be decided after Jan. 1, when three new councilors take office. Councilors Kellum, Sykes and Bill Coburn, who appointed Perkins, are not seeking re-election this fall.

The commission was created about 13 years ago, prompted by a local flap after someone proposed that a portion of a city park be dedicated to Latinos. Then, two or three years ago, the board asked to include words the equity, inclusion and diversity in its founding ordinance, which caused council pushback but ended in a compromise.

At the root of the issue is this: Over the years the commission has taken up the same “progressive” causes that are roiling America, and conservative members of the council view some of these causes as misguided or wrong. (hh)


15 responses to “Human relations: Council puts panel ‘on hold’”

  1. Ray Kopczynski says:

    Your Iast two paragraphs are a very concise & astute observation!

  2. Ramona Nunez says:

    I disagree with your last paragraph.
    I think the big picture here is that the United States is changing. Fast. The pandemic has accelerated the inevitable and revealed profound flaws in our society. People (young AND old) are tired of the corruption of police forces and their excessive use of violence; tired of corrupt governments and courts; and most of all, tired of neoliberalism and its economic failure.

    Yeah, there are a bunch of rowdy college aged folk making a ruckus and destroying stuff because they have seized the opportunity. This behavior was also present in the late 60s. The mainstream media loves to rile up the >50 demographic because it makes for better ratings. But I condemn that behavior and hate how damaging it’s been to a movement with noble intentions. People aren’t seeing the immense amount of positive advocacy work that’s going on behind the scenes. Work that a new & more in-touch HRC could help guide.

    Also shame on Coburn for appointing reactionary conspiracy theorist Perkins. She has no business being on the committee.

    • Bill Kapaun says:

      “Also shame on Coburn for appointing reactionary conspiracy theorist Perkins. She has no business being on the committee.”

      I think that pretty much shows YOU are much of the problem.
      Show your proof.

    • Chaim Uri says:

      I totally agree with Ms. Nunez’s comments; America is changing. Having grown up with white-ish skin color in neighborhoods predominantly populated by people with black-ish, brown-ish & yellow-ish skin colors, followed by living in an almost completely white-ish people area, followed by 17 years in Asia among various nationalities, followed by Oregon, my impression is that we do indeed live in what I would call a caste system, one in which Americans with black-ish skin are on the bottom & one that became color coded due to the institution of slavery & one that, as Thomas Paine predicted, is still haunting us today. The problem is one of rights. People might have equal rights under the law but they are not treated that way. Dylan Roof was taken alive out of the Church where he murdered black people & bought Burger King by the police. White armed vigilantes recently stopped a black woman trying to go from Candy Oregon to a nearby town, demanding ID from her & asking where she was from. The Bundy clan pointed weapons at Federal officers a couple years back. A white police officer murdered a black man by slowly & cruelly squeezing the life out of him on Chicago & 38th ( one of my old neighborhoods) in Minneapolis etc., etc., so on & so forth. What would have happened if Dylan Roof had black skin & had murdered white people in their own church? Think he’d have earned a Burger King lunch or a body bag? What about the white vigilantes up near Candy? If black vigilantes would have held a white woman at gunpoint, would the reaction of white citizens been the same? If you believe it would have been, I would question your education and/or mental health status. We as Americans have set ourselves some high ideals, higher that all the countries that I have been in. We have stated that we are a nation made up of everyone from everywhere (E. Plurbus Unum) & that we all have equal access to the pursuit of life, liberty & happiness. That’s a tall order & that’s our mandate as Americans, regardless of our skin colors, religions or ethnic origins. It’s our destiny.

      I too believe America is changing & I say “Thank G-d” it is. Meeting & living around people different from me color-wise, ethnic-wise, religion-wise or other-wise has added to my life immensely.

      • Hasso Hering says:

        Your summary of the Dylan Roof-Burger King story from 2015 is mistaken and leaves the wrong impression. Look it up on the Internet.

        • Chaim Uri says:

          Thank you for correcting me & I apologize for the oversight. I was trying to make a point & did so in haste. I do not believe it negates the fact that America’s institutions and especially the police have treated black Americans horribly throughout our history, in the north as well as the south.

        • Chaim Uri says:

          I checked Snopes & my initial statement was correct. The police bought him Burger King, which is what I said. My point was that a black man in that situation would more than likely have been killed by the police.

          • Hasso Hering says:

            What you wrote was that he was taken from the church where he had murdered people and provided something to eat. Actually, he was arrested later and held as a suspect for interrogation. Even murder suspects have to eat eventually, and because the police station didn’t provide meal service, somebody went and bought a burger. Big difference.

    • Rich Kellum says:

      Interesting use of “reactionary” that is what the Communist Party in China and the Soviet Union called anyone who didn’t go along with their program….

  3. Ron Green says:

    I think it’s important to understand that an “all lives matter” attitude should not be part of a Commission advocating for people who are historically oppressed or left out. Growing up in a state where Black people were prohibited by law, most white Oregonians haven’t lived the reality that the HRC is charged with examining, understanding, and addressing. A white-supremacy stalking horse does not provide balance to this Commission, but instead seeks to destroy it, as appears to have happened.

    • Bill Kapaun says:

      Racism works both ways. One is allowed and one isn’t.

      • Ron Green says:

        That’s easy to say, that racism is a simple back and forth kind of thing. The causes, the history, the truth of America’s racial situation deserve more thought. For example, my experience growing up in the Jim Crow South was quite different from those in the PNW who, while having very few people of color around them, nevertheless were integrated into schools and restaurants with them. I never went to school with a Black person because they had their own school called “Colored High School.”

        To simply erase centuries of this kind of complexity by saying “both sides do it, but only one gets away with it” is not worthy of a modern nation or even basic scholarship.


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