ON THE AVENUES: As long as the Democratic hierarchy keeps the Human Rights Commission under its thumb, it’s hard to be optimistic.

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ON THE AVENUES: As long as the Democratic hierarchy keeps the Human Rights Commission under its thumb, it’s hard to be optimistic.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

A proposed enlargement of the New Albany Human Rights Commission (HRC) from five board members to seven comes to this week’s city council meeting on Thursday night.

That’s tonight, for those of you able to attend.

The ordinance is likely to be approved, and stands to generate little in the way of pros or cons. That’s too bad, because the latest HRC saga symbolizes most of the abject failings of the Democratic Party’s flailing leadership cadres – all blow, no show, perpetually diversionary, and power hungry to the very last dollop of campaign finance.

Hilariously, the same Floyd County Democratic Party absently snoozing through four long years of HRC interruptus now feels compelled to gloriously affirm a commission enlargement made relevant by absolutely nothing the party itself has done.

The party’s response has been clumsy, to say the least. The GOP’s central role in recently re-animating a commission that both Democrats and their mayor, Jeff Gahan, had shown zero interest in maintaining meant Democrats had to do something; forced to respond to council president Al Knable’s HRC resuscitation efforts, Gahan’s “dependable-functionaries-first” prioritization led to the appointment of two over-60, white, straight but utterly reliable men.

In turn, Gahan’s oafishness resulted in the exclusion of African-American candidates, including ideal appointee Nicole Yates, the latter owing to the mayor’s and party chairman’s fundamental distrust of human rights. The embarrassment aroused by the preceding game-playing disturbed a handful of quasi-progressives, who’d be needed for the coming election even if they fail to grasp the mayor’s and party chairman’s spoils-driven hypocrisy

Dickey’s typically overcooked blandishments reinforce a fact long grasped by New Albanians with a the faintest of pulses: if you want to know when Dickey is torturing the truth, just look to see if his lips are moving.

Statement on Human Rights Commission Ordinance

Party Chair supports growth of City Commission; urges creation of County HRC

New Albany, October 18, 2018 – In response to a proposed ordinance expanding the New Albany Human Rights Commission sponsored by City Council Members Greg Phipps and Pat McLaughlin, Floyd County Democratic Party Chair Adam Dickey issued the following statement:

“As Democrats, we believe our government works best when it reflects the many faces of our community and is informed through civic engagement. Councilman Phipps’ and McLaughlin’s ordinance to expand the City of New Albany’s Human Rights Commission offers a unique opportunity to not only add strong representation, but to grow the diverse community voices present on this important body. To that end, we support the city’s efforts through this new ordinance.”

“In recent weeks, our community has continued to see incidents of hate and bigotry through the vandalism of public property and places. It has long been my sincere hope that Floyd County would adopt a similar Human Rights Commission ordinance to that approved by the City of New Albany under Mayor Gahan’s leadership in 2012. Alas, our Commissioners, led by Republican Mark Seabrook, have failed to act and no such body protects our citizens in the county. With the city’s leadership to once again renew its commitment to the HRC, I hope a new effort to pass a similar ordinance protecting Floyd County residents can be implemented. Together, our community can make a strong value statement against discrimination and ensure that everyone, regardless of one’s race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age or economic background, is welcome to be part of our community.”

As recently as last year, original HRC mover Greg Phipps publicly stated that he’d washed his hands of the commission, such was his own party’s indifference. Meekly, he’s skulking back into the tent, forever unwilling to publicly differ with the party’s most powerful.

And with elections impending, it’s important for the party to do some content-free political posturing (read: play-acting). Note the inclusion in Dickey’s broadside of a potshot aimed against presumptive Republican mayoral contestant Mark Seabrook.

Dickey, whose Democrats have done nothing at all about hate crimes — whose mayor won’t acknowledge homelessness or the opioid crisis — in effect accuses Seabrook of doing as little as his own organization has.

That’s principled in a dust-mite-like way, wouldn’t you say?

It’s extremely important for onlookers to remember that after the long moribund New Albany Human Rights Commission first was revived six years ago amid much hope, it promptly was allowed wither on the vine by the same City Hall team eager to publicly take credit for its existence.

The general idea was for local Democrats to be seen as upholding human rights, as opposed to actually doing anything about human rights. Of course, it’s true that certain local Democrats genuinely believe in the HRC’s concept and its mission.

However, as it pertains to the Democratic Party’s power-brokering elders (Gahan, Dickey and commission appointee Warren Nash, among others), there is no refuting their determination to restrict the HRC to public relations alone; if the commission actually were to be autonomous with real teeth, the elders might not be able to exercise control over it.

Just as obviously, matters like the mayor’s hostile takeover of public housing and his consistent, self-aggrandizing diminution of his nominal party’s traditional base (the community’s most vulnerable) then would become precisely the sort of human rights violations suitable for examination by a truly independent body.

The impetus for the current re-re-animation of the HRC is Republican councilman and council president Al Knable, whose appointments to the commission (Paul Kiger and Calle Janson) reflected a clear understanding of exactly what such a body should be.

In short: Knable acted decisively to bring life to the HRC when Gahan wouldn’t, which was savvy both politically and conceptually. Strangely (at least to Democratic ideologues), some local Republicans are invested in human rights, too.

Hence the predictable response of Gahan, Dickey, Nash and other Democrats devoted first and foremost to the principle of preserving party power patronage; placed on the defensive, their first instinct has been to ensure the HRC remains (a) under their control, and (b) non-functional, while reserving the right to claim any public relations benefits down the road.

This is how your Democratic “leadership” operates, progressives..

Accordingly, and as previously noted, Gahan appointed two white, straight, male Democratic Party stalwarts: Warren Nash (82) and Cliff Staten (64). University professor Staten, whose son Josh recently was hired as head of redevelopment, served on the HRC previously.

As an academic and previous member, Staten’s appointment to the HRC probably is justifiable. But Nash, whose son is Matt — a city councilman recently hired by the New Albany Housing Authority, an entity annexed by Gahan in 2017 — is a purely political appointment.

His presence is a dreadful, sad joke, and when it came to the four appointed members picking the fifth, it immediately became evident that the vote wouldn’t be easy.

New Albany Human Rights Commission to vote on fifth member, by Chris Morris (Selected Works of Tom May)

Two of the four members, Paul Kiger and Calle Janson, wanted to vote for the fifth member following the interviews Thursday, but Cliff Staten and Warren Nash preferred waiting a few days in order to review the resumes.

The best candidate to take the commission’s fifth seat was Nicole Yates, who is president of the NAACP; while a strong Democrat, she also has valuable experience working outside the narrow confines of New Albany, for both Greg Fischer and John Yarmuth.

Consequently, she has shown more independence and is less beholden to Dickey, the local party chairman, and that’s why Dickey and Gahan, who fear Yates in much the same way as inferior white men always react to strong, independent and intelligent women, duly conspired to assure the election of Jennifer Ortiz.

Ortiz named to New Albany’s Human Rights Commission (Morris)

The New Albany Human Rights Commission now has a fifth member.

Jennifer Ortiz, a professor at IU Southeast, was elected 3-1 to the commission Tuesday. Nicole Yates was also nominated but failed to get a second.

Last week five New Albany residents were interviewed by the four sitting commission members. Besides Ortiz and Yates, Ken Brooks and Sarah Ring were both considered. Lane Stumler interviewed but withdrew from the process, saying the board needed to add more diversity.

Make no mistake: Ortiz is qualified for a seat, period.

However, she also works with Staten at IU Southeast, which must be mentioned in the context of City Hall’s eternally nepotistic tendencies. Undoubtedly Dickey and Gahan believe she’s a vote they can count on.

In the final analysis, the overarching point has nothing to do with any of the HRC appointees, save for Nash’s inexcusable presence, because Gahan’s and Dickey’s objectives with their mismanagement of the HRC has not been to represent the community’s diversity.

It has been to assure their continued control of a “human rights” product in pre-packaged, controllable form.

Human Rights Commission lacks African-American representation

Prof. Jennifer Ortiz appears to be a wonderful addition to the Floyd County Human Rights Commission. As an academic with a background in criminal justice she should lend an intellectual rigor to the Commission and an authoritative perspective on issues that are often at the center of concerns over racial injustice.

However, the failure to directly represent the legitimate and unique experiences of African-Americans on a Human Rights Commission that will likely confront issues of racial discrimination is a remarkable feat of negligence on the part of the City Council and the Mayor’s Office, which were responsible for the other appointments. The issue isn’t about quotas and it’s certainly not a knock against the qualifications and commitment to service of the other distinguished members of the Commission.

The mandate of the Commission requires an authentic representation of the full range of perspectives from members of our community. It is encouraging that Commission Chair Paul Kiger is open to correcting the imbalance.

— Frank Z. Riely Jr., Floyds Knobs

Good, but I’d have Frank be aware that the city council did just fine with its share of the mandate. Dickey and Gahan are the ones who squandered the mandate for purely political considerations, and so city council will enlarge a board which has been suppressed by none other than Dickey and Gahan.

Not one aspect of the HRC board’s size matters if City Hall and the Democratic Party continue to regard the HRC as a non-functional, symbolic set piece, not as a tool meant to be used.

Progressives, pay heed. The HRC’s comeback needn’t have occurred, because it shouldn’t have neglected, and once it became necessary, your own party’s leadership has politicized it again; if Dickey and Gahan don’t get what they want from the HRC, they’ll smother it a second time.

What you permit, you promote. What you allow, you encourage. What you condone, you own.

Don’t let Dickey and Gahan speak for you. They may be “Democratic” in the sense of a two-party duopoly, but they’re by no means “democratic” in any meaningful way.

Recent columns:

October 11: ON THE AVENUES: Clamming up is hard to do, but I’m trying my best.

September 30: ON THE AVENUES SPECIAL EDITION: As David White’s mayoral campaign begins, let’s briefly survey the electoral landscape.

September 28: ON THE AVENUES: If this is adulting, I’d rather be leaving on a jet plane.

September 20: ON THE AVENUES: Fighting the power with ballots, not bullets.

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