MERIDEN – The city council voted unanimously on two separate motions, approving the combination of two existing city councils overseeing issues related to aging and people with disabilities, as well as an expanded role for its long-standing human rights advisory council.
The two voices followed a remote Tuesday night public hearing convened through video conferencing. In the first action, the city’s Disability Commission and its Advisory Board on Aging were merged into the new Commission on Aging and Disabilities. In its second action, the council revised Chapter 6, Article XXIV of the City Code to establish the Advisory Council on Human Rights, Racial Justice and Social Justice.
The latter revision not only changes the name of this body, but expands its membership to eleven members, which would now include two councilors representing each party congress.
As part of the powers and duties, the revised code contains details: “The board defines the conditions, needs and problems relating to human rights, racial and social justice in the city of Meriden and reviews and makes recommendations to the city administrator, the human rights attorney. and city council, as needed. “The revision means that the board will meet as often as necessary, but at least every two months. The revision also states that the board of directors will report its business and actions at least once a quarter to city officials and the council at least three times a year.
City Council Majority Leader David Lowell stated during the hearing that the consolidation of aging and disability monitoring bodies was part of a larger effort to review existing councilors that share a common purpose. He noted that one of the committees – aging – was still active while the other was inactive.
Lowell noted that the individual panels may have looked at issues that are not entirely within their previous categories. “There are similarities in public that members of these bodies and commissions should consult and deal with.”
Lowell noted that the existing Chair of the Aging Research Advisory Board had contributed prior to the council’s decision. The purpose of the consolidation was not to dilute the duties of the previous commissions.
“We haven’t done this in isolation without the active committee weighing the legitimacy of what we were trying to do,” Lowell said.
During the human rights revision hearing, Councilor Sonya Jelks, Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on Racial Justice, stated a similar purpose.
“We want to strengthen the Human Rights Committee, which has also had some problems with participation and understanding its purpose and support,” said Jelks.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati said during the discussion that his office had contacted the current members of the Human Rights Advisory Board to gauge their interest in continuing to work on the new committee.
“One of the questions members asked several times when asking them to continue to serve is what is different?” Scarpati said, “… I wonder if there is currently a context in which committee members can decide whether or not to switch to this new role. What are you charged with? ”
Scarpati noted that he had no definitive answers for the members.
In response, Jelks stated that at the committee discussion level, Members have “pushed back the prescription of the Commission’s actions. I think it’s a community conversation that needs to be had and I think if problems are brought to the commission we will find out what kinds of problems are occurring in our community, ”she said. “Because of course we cannot plan for every single event that can happen. At the moment, however, I see for myself that this special advisory council can help in those cases where we may have specific problems that result in both citizens being in on human rights issues, but also in relation to racial and social justice within the US any way affected are city limits themselves. ”
Jelks cited issues related to hiring practices or those involving the police or other organizations that citizens may wish to investigate on their behalf.
Lowell added that he believed the Board revision “emphasizes the importance of racial and social justice to human rights.” He pointed to health differences between color communities as a potential topic of discussion.
“And I think this committee would be the grassroots committee that does this, has this conversation, that puts things first,” Lowell said.
He later stated that the role of such a committee “will only be as good as we as council appreciate it, and the mayor values it in his position. So it’s our job to make them important and make sure we call them when there are no meetings. And if they are lost in the forest and have no reason why they should meet and therefore they do not meet, we have to give them that purpose. We need to help empower them and get these community conversations going, ”said Lowell.
Councilor Bruce Fontanella reiterated previous questions to business consultant Matthew McGoldrick regarding the potential conflict of interest when a person serving as an attorney in the city’s legal department is also serving as a human rights attorney.
McGoldrick responded that one issue he was made aware of as a potential conflict of interest “is with the Legal Department providing information to a prospective applicant about where the appropriate location is to submit their application.”
McGoldrick noted that the language in the city code would allow the attorney to provide this information to this potential applicant.
“However, I know that there are different opinions on this. I have spoken to some of you about this a few times. We are investigating this conflict and the solutions to remove the appearance. These are currently in the works, ”said McGoldrick. “I don’t think the language or the subject will do that tonight. But it’s in the works. ”
Fontanella followed by asking whether both the advising person and the city attorney concerned would need consent in order to avoid a conflict of interest.
McGoldrick replied that his department is still on the issue, which he said “will have no bearing on what is before the committee today.”
Scarpati, who arrived on Wednesday, noted that the appointment process for the new boards would be the same as for any other board or committee. He will set up the appointments, which will be referred to the city council for review. This process would take place in two sessions.
“I hope names will be submitted for the next council meeting,” said Scarpati, adding that the meeting would take place next month. His office has already answered “several inquiries” from members of the public interested in serving.
Scarpati urged all other members of the public who wish to join either committee to submit their information using the committee and commission interest form on the city’s website. This form can be accessed at meridenct.gov/form/boards-commissions-interest-form/.
[email protected]: @MikeGagneRJ