Advisory subcommittee: a new human relations board

On Thursday, April 24, an Advisory subcommittee set to work at 7:00 pm in the third-floor lounge at Town Hall–slicing and dicing Article 10 for the spring town meeting in May. The meeting, which included a public hearing, recalled an old saw sometimes misattributed to Bismarck. (“Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.” John Godfrey Saxe, 1869) However, unlike other town boards, slicing and dicing is the main business at Advisory. They go at it with confidence.

Article 10 had been reviewed just the night before by the Human Relations Youth Resources (HRYR) Commission, which it proposes to abolish–creating in its place a new “Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations (DICR) Commission.” Michael Sandman, who chairs the special subcommittee assembled for the topic, did conduct a public hearing, unlike HRYR–which advertised a public hearing but did not hear from members of the public. It didn’t take much time, since the Advisory hearing drew only a few members of town boards and two visitors.

Mr. Sandman was prepared with a punch-list of proposed amendments, gathered from several sources. He and Advisory colleagues Systke Humphrey, Bernard Greene and Amy Hummel went through them briskly, yet with close attention to meaning and detail. Although Mariela Ames, who chairs HRYR, was present, apparently she had not sent Mr. Sandman the changes her commission proposed the day before; they were not on his punch-list.

Among the many amendments discussed, three stood out. Facing a potential for a commission with only one staff person–possibly none–calling the organization either a “department” or a “division” doesn’t seem to fit the circumstances. The subcommittee recommends calling it an “office” instead, although it’s not clear whether the proposed DICR commission would have an actual office.

Three members of the selectmen-appointed committee that proposed Article 10 were present: Martin Rosenthal, Rita McNally and Elena Olsen. They were helpful in explaining how they came to propose a new commission with a variable number of commissioners: 11 to 15. However, the subcommittee recommends a commission of fixed size, like all other current boards, settling on 15 commissioners.

The third “hot button” issue was whether the proposed DICR commission should have scope to review practices of more than agencies reporting to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner and the Board of Selectmen. The other major agencies are the Public Schools, Housing Authority and Public Library–each of which has an elected governing board.

At Mr. Sandman’s suggestion, the subcommittee recommends that the proposed bylaw say it “applies to all Brookline departments and agencies.” In his opinion, that would include schools and libraries but not the Brookline Housing Authority. That might be a specious distinction, since the housing authority is a state-chartered agency, while the town is a political subdivision of the state. [Hunter v. City of Pittsburg, 207 U.S. 161, 178-179, 1907, upholding a principle sometimes called “Dillon’s rule“]

Like monitoring of the Public Schools of Brookline, monitoring by a Brookline agency of the town’s housing authority would need cooperation rather than compulsion. A total of 16 potential amendments was considered, with nine to be recommended. The full Advisory Committee will meet at Town Hall Tuesday, April 29, at 7:00 pm, and take up those and other issues.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 25, 2014

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