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Decatur Looks to Hire Part-Time Discrimination Investigator

Updated: Thursday, May 8 2014, 02:44 PM CDT
DECATUR -- Residents in Decatur are struggling with the city council's decision to cut the position responsible for investigating claims of bias and discrimination. Monday night, the council discussed possible ways to fill that role while still saving the city money.

Faced with a gap in the city budget for 2014, city council decided to eliminate the human relations officer position. This position is responsible for investigating claims of discrimination in Decatur. Now, concerns are coming up in the community, but there's no one to lead the charge in handling those concerns.

"Discrimination and racism still goes on. It still exists in this society, and I believe it still exists in Decatur even if some people don't wish to acknowledge that," Alesha Bailey, a Decatur native, said.

That's the idea behind the human relations commission. In the past, 30 to 40 discrimination complaints were filed with the human relations officer. About three or four are actually heard by the commission, which decides if the city's anti-discrimination ordinance has been violated.

"Say you felt like you lost your job for a discriminatory matter, a discriminatory reason. Maybe there's a property a landlord won't rent you because of your gender or sexual orientation or something like that, you can file a claim with the human relations commission through the human relations officer," City Manager Ryan McCrady said.

The problem now, is the city has been without a human relations officer since January. So, those problems can't be investigated, or sent to the commission for a hearing. The city council cited the availability of local courts, along with state and federal agencies, to handle many of those complaints in their decision to slash this position from the 2014 budget.

"That was what played into the thought process of the mayor and the city council itself when we didn't find the position, that they are other avenues available to citizens," McCrady said.

Some Decatur resident's don't agree, on the grounds that some complaints should be handled locally and having a full-time liaison in town could prevent discrimination from happening.

"I think it's beneficial in that regard to oversee those types of things," Decatur resident Sean Smull said.

The all-volunteer commissioners asked the council to reinstate the position during a study session Monday. The human relations officer was costing the city roughly $80,000 a year in salary and employment benefits. When that was cut from the budget, $20,000 was delegated for discrimination investigations.

"So the council's question was how much work can we get for $20,000 and you don't really know," McCrady said.

The council said the commission should use that $20,000 to find this part-time investigator. The next step for the city will be requesting information from potential discrimination investigators to gauge how many investigations the human relations commission budget can afford.Decatur Looks to Hire Part-Time Discrimination Investigator

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