HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION 13 February 2017

These are my own notes on the Traverse City Human Rights Commission meeting on 13 February 2017. As a member of the public they’re sure to be more opinionated/informal than the official minutes will be.

Greeting of new commissioners

Michelle Bostic and Isiah Smith Jr.

Public comment.

*There were several public comments, most of them dealt with whether the City should officially designate itself a “sanctuary city.” I felt it was an unwise idea, and what I think seems to be unpopular most of the time so I was surprised to hear others expressing reservations on this idea, including one person who is now a naturalized citizen but who continues to experience discrimination based on how she looks.

*I asked a question about what appeared to be a resolution in the public packet. There wasn’t anything about a resolution on the agenda so I figured it must have been a discussion during a past meeting which I didn’t see/hear (and minutes for Human Rights Commission meetings are difficult to find on the City’s website, the minutes also tend to be a bit too compact). In the proposed resolution it states: “It is resolved that Traverse City will always be a city that respects and welcomes all people regardless of age, race, color, sexual orientation or ethnicity.” I feel this leaves out some groups that are generally included such as gender and disability and some that aren’t generally included such as gender identity. A couple of paragraphs down from that it says “Further resolved, that Traverse City supports people of every sexual identity” I asked what “sexual identity” means. Commissioner Nash commented that they didn’t write the letter. It was something presented to them by a community member. He commented that he thought it related to the LGBT community. I wondered (and stated at the time) if it’s supposed to mean gay? Does it mean transgender? What does it mean? The HRC didn’t seem to know either. (I tried not to have a back and forth with them, I realize that’s not the procedure these meetings want to follow).  There is more about this item later in my notes under Human Rights Ordinance.

Note: This was the only time I had a short back and forth with the commission. Every other place in my notes where I wonder about something I wrote it down at the time and didn’t speak to the commission. I realize they are trying to preserve their meeting procedure and don’t want to take constant back and forth comment from the public during the meeting.

*The front man for a group which the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as a hate group got up and talked trash about the LGBT community. This person comes to city commission meetings and does the same thing during general public comment. Some may think, well, this is just one person who is easily ignored, but those of use who’ve been paying attention for a while know he is merely the front man for a larger group. He and a some unknown number of others have claimed to have had group meetings (some of them have spoke about this at past public meetings) and there is a local man who shadows (or used to) the front man to his public demonstrations. He stations himself away from the demonstration and takes photographs of anyone who dares to engage. The photographs would then be posted online with some sort of disparaging remarks. This photographer man also follows (or did follow) people who are openly gay or transgender and would take photos of them and their vehicles and post them online again with disparaging remarks. The same (photographer) guy used to come to city commission meetings for the purpose of intimidating a commissioner (he made reference to this on social media) who is openly gay. He also made references on social media to shooting people he doesn’t agree with politically. I haven’t checked the activity of their website or social medias in quite a while, but that’s the history and why I feel that this front man’s persistence and redundancy has its real purpose in discouraging open participation in local government by LGBT residents. Unfortunately there’s nothing the City or its commissions can do about it since he doesn’t yell or make threats at meetings. I generally leave or pick up my phone and tune out this bullshit but I still feel it creates a hostile and intimidating environment and doesn’t reflect the values the Human Rights Commission is trying to present.

Old Business

Sarah Hardy Award.

The commission stated that they received only 1 nominee for the Sarah Hardy Award this year. They expressed that while they were not at all disappointed with the person who was nominated, they would like to have more nominations to consider. There was a discussion about looking back to the nominees for last year. Commissioner Smith asked if that were proper since it says 2016. He wondered if it was a sort of lifetime achievement award or a yearly award. Commissioner Nash explained that it’s more of a lifetime achievement award and that he thought the HRC has, in the past, gone back to prior nominees. Staff confirmed that there have been times when the HRC has looked at prior year nominees. Each commissioner present gave their top 2 picks.

MLK day.

Commissioner Odgers presented feedback she received from the public during the evening performance for MLK day. Commissioner Odgers expressed that she felt the HRC was not as much involved in the planning process for the performance as she would have liked since the City does, in part, underwrite the performance. The commission discussed being more assertive about being more included and involved in the planning process and programming for next year.

Crisis Intervention Training and ALPACT – no updates

Human Rights City.

Traverse City would like to become a “Human Rights City”. This has been discussed in some past meetings, but, again, minutes and other information is not available on the City’s website Human Rights Commission Website. This web site is possibly related to this idea and effort (was not mentioned at the meeting, I went looking for it): http://www.ushrnetwork.org/our-work/project/national-human-rights-city-network

Commissioner Johnson stated that as a first step, Traverse City’s Human Rights Commission is putting together a survey for the public. The purpose is to reach out to residents and others interested to find out who feels most marginalized within the community and what areas might weak points or the most problematic in the City. Commissioner Johnson states there is no template or checklist for a Human Rights City because the problems and needs of one city may differ from another city based on demographics and location. He suggests that the survey should not have an end date and that gathering this input/information from residents and other interested parties should be an ongoing initiative. The survey will be completed within a week. There was no mention of when or where it will be live. In a previous meeting it was mentioned that the survey may have multiple ways to be received and returned in an effort to be the most inclusive.

It was mentioned that there is a Human Rights Day in December.

Human Rights Commission Group Contacts.

The Human Rights Commission is making contact with various groups in the area. Commissioner Nash recently met with Up North Pride and GT Band. There will be more about these meetings at a later HRC meeting. It was suggested to gather a list of contacts into a database for the HRC to reach out to when needed.

Spring Forum on Mental Health.

May 9th 7-8:30pm in the second floor Training Room.

New Business

Annual Report.

There was some discussion of the annual report. I wondered how to see a copy of it since there are no annual reports posted on the City’s Human Rights Commission website.

Sanctuary Cities.

The commission thanked the people who gave public comment on this topic. There was some discussion about what a sanctuary city is, specifically whether a city has a right under the 4th amendment to deny a request by ICE to detain a person, who is discovered to be undocumented, without a warrant.

My thoughts: If it there is a right to deny such a request under the 4th amendment would it also apply in a border zone? ICE has designated all of the State of Michigan as a border zone. I wonder if any city in Michigan can truly be a “sanctuary city” since the entire State is a border zone? See this ACLU site for more information: https://www.aclu.org/other/constitution-100-mile-border-zone?redirect=constitution-100-mile-border-zone

Staff spoke with police chief O’Brien who said that when they arrest someone who they discover (through their normal booking process) is undocumented they are required to, and do, call ICE. O’Brien stated that ICE has never come to pick anybody up and those arrested are eventually released.

Commissioner Johnson expressed concern about federal funding due to a threat being made at the federal level to withhold federal funding from cities that officially designate themselves sanctuary cities. He wondered exactly what, if any, federal funding the City receives that may be at risk. Commissioner Smith suggested that federal funding can’t be withheld despite the threats made.

Commissioner Odgers related that some people are putting signs in their windows which say “sanctuary house.” She expressed that she thought many of them were more related to the LGBT community but she wondered what people’s constitutional rights would be if they provide “sanctuary” within their private homes to someone who is undocumented.

 Human Trafficking Conference.

NMC is hosting a Human Trafficking Conference. Pre-registration is required. See this website for more information: https://blogs.nmc.edu/?p=24243

Human Rights Ordinance.

This is related to the resolution letter that was in the public packet which I’d commented on during the public comment. The commission questioned the wording in this letter compared to the wording on the agenda – is this an ordinance or a resolution?

Commissioner Nash felt the letter was too charged and opinion based and wanted it to be more objective and fact based.

Commissioner Stinnet suggested it may be duplicating the effort of the Human Rights City designation.

A suggestion was made to invite the author of the resolution letter to attend a later meeting to get some clarification and more input.

Commissioner Comments.

Commissioner Odgers [actually a comment/discussion earlier in the meeting but I’m putting it here] asked whether the City’s Human Rights Commission website was a place for them to put things such as links to the Human Trafficking Conference and other items that may be of interest to the public. There was also consideration of possibly creating a Facebook page. Staff spoke with the City Clerk who urged caution using a Facebook page because comments left by visitors would need to be monitored. If it’s not able to be monitored well enough it could be made an announcement-only page. Commissioner Stinnet asked for more information about Facebook due to not being familiar with it. There will be more discussion at a later meeting.

Commissioner Odgers made a comment about a front page story in the Record Eagle entitled Race Against Time. She said she received many emails complaining about the content of the article. See the article here: http://bit.ly/2kORqGd

Commissioner Odgers mentioned a museum exhibit called “Things we carried”. She noted it had to do with what immigrants carried with them when they moved. I made a note to see if I could find more information about it online. Unfortunately I’m not sure which one it is or where it is when I went looking for it. This *might* be it (even if not, it seems interesting): http://bit.ly/2lfAVUe

Commissioner Bostic requested information on the City’s financial assets. She wondered if any of them may have ties to the Dakota Access Pipeline and Embridge Energy. She stated that she was only asking because people in the community might be interested in knowing.

Commissioner Smith suggested the Human Rights Commission should “have a high profile in the community” in order to get more input and participation from the public on things the commission does.