Human Relations: harassment complaints and resignations

A meeting of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission on Wednesday, June 11, started at 7:00 pm in the Denny Room at the Health Center. Ten of the fifteen commissioners attended, as well as Lloyd Gellineau, Brookline’s human relations and human services administrator, Benjamin Chang for the School Committee, Philip Harrington for the Police Department, a secretary recording minutes and three visitors.

Under “new business,” Commissioner Ernest Frey described two recent Brookline incidents suggesting racial harassment and occurring in private settings. He asked about the commission’s approach to addressing such reports. Responding also to a related question from Commissioner Valencia Sparrow, Dr. Gellineau said there is a brochure about Brookline’s human relations program and said Brookline’s municipal Web site has links to the “Brookline Discrimination Report Form.”

On a page providing a link to the report form that Dr. Gellineau mentioned, the municipal Web site describes Brookline’s Human Relations and Human Services Division, housed in the Health Department building. The page also has a link to the “Brookline Citizen Discrimination Inquiry Procedure.”

The discrimination report form has four options for “type of incident.” They are “housing,” “business,” “work” and “other.” The “Citizen Discrimination Inquiry Procedure,” an undated document, comes with a file title noting “amendment 1.” This version of the procedure asks only about a “business or service of concern.” It does not describe processes for addressing “housing,” “work” or “other” discrimination.

Since the incidents that Mr. Frey described are probably more related to “housing” than to “business,” it is not clear how Brookline plans to address them. Commissioner Dwaign Tyndal called them “fair housing issues” needing prompt action, because of time limits for filing complaints with MCAD and fair housing agencies. Mr. Frey suggested dispute resolution as an approach. Mr. Tyndal responded, “When you discriminate against someone who belongs to a protected class, it’s the law” that governs.

Brookline’s procedure advises people with complaints to contact the town’s human relations and human services administrator, Dr. Gellineau. The procedure says “all complaints will be forward [sic] to the Human Relations Commission for review.” It provides a link to the Human Relations Commission’s page for people who want to contact a commissioner directly.

Turning to a “leadership” agenda item, Mariela Ames, who chairs the commission, said she was resigning from it. That’s not likely to surprise readers of the Beacon, because Ms. Ames has maintained since April that the bylaw creating a new commission, approved by town meeting under Article 10 on May 29, would not produce an improvement over the current commission. She described that as her main reason for leaving.

It was “disappointing to get blocked by the selectmen,” Ms. Ames said. They had “excluded members of the commission” from participating in changes and had “drafted bylaws that enshrine [bad] practices in writing.” Ms. Ames spoke similarly at town meeting on May 29. “As a person of color,” she said, “my voice was not heard…This town needs a strong commission, but there’s no support from the selectmen.”

Mr. Frey said to Ms. Ames that he was “very disappointed in [her] feeling the need to take this step.” He said he was also “upset that the [selectmen's "diversity] committee” excluded members of this commission. They will say that they didn’t, but we all know that they did.”

Commissioner Larry Onie said, “I too am going to resign tonight. Town meeting made a very radical decision.” He continued, “It’s crystal clear that the five selectmen…do not understand that they have a serious ‘white problem’ in Brookline, so I’m going to work on this…in a different way.”

Commissioner Cruz Sanabria asked, “Does anybody believe…we can do something when it comes to helping people? Our effectiveness has been watered down. What is our purpose now?” He said he was also resigning from the commission.

Commissioner Brooks Ames said that, like his wife Mariela, he was resigning from the commission. It has become “a steering wheel not attached to anything,” he said. “All the department heads are white. In the recent years, we hired new white department heads.” Those positions include a new fire chief, planning and community development director, comptroller, building commissioner, town counsel and town administrator.

Ms. Sparrow stated, “People of color are not getting positions” in town government. The Human Resources office, she said, “won’t let go of the information. A request last year to review information was angrily declined.” Mr. Sanabria agreed, “The only time the selectmen listened was when an article came out [in a newspaper] about jobs maintained [for] everyone but people of color.”

Although not resigning, Commissioner Georgi Vogel Rosen said she is “not applying to the next commission.” Ms. Ames, Mr. Onie, Mr. Sanabria and Mr. Ames said goodbye to the other commissioners and left the meeting. Commissioner Kelly Race said “leadership” should head the agenda for the next meeting. “We should also review subcommittees,” she said. The next meeting was tentatively set for Wednesday, July 9.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, June 12, 2014

Mariela Ames, Selectmen’s agenda does not include race relations, Brookline TAB, September 11, 2013

Brock Parker, Diversity panel’s item reflects ongoing dispute, Boston Globe, November 17, 2013

Andreae Downs, A racially tinged clash just keeps on going, Boston Globe, January 20, 2008

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