Council Votes 5-4 To Re-Establish Panel

A civil rights panel has been reinstated by the city government; a body that has not existed since 1996, but some councilmen said the panel is a sign of government overreach.

The Oklahoma City Human Rights Commission was re-established during last week’s City Council meeting.

The panel was dashed in 1996.

The new nine-member commission–whose members will be suggested by council members and appointed by the mayor–will be charged with investigating and addressing employment, housing and public accommodations discrimination complaints.

During more than 90 minutes of public comments from 38 residents, proponents said the commission will ensure a clear route to managing discrimination in Oklahoma City.

A 5-4 vote by the City Council approved the creation of the panel last week.

Councilmen Bradley Carter, Barbara Young, David Greenwell and Mark Stonecipher voted against the panel’s creation.

Plans for the commission were formed with the help of a task force formed by Mayor David Holt in 2020, amid the social unrest and racial justice reckoning after the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.

The city’s previous human rights commission was disbanded by the City Council in 1996 after commissioners sought to extend protection to homosexuals.

Then-Councilman  Jerry Foshee (Ward 5) said the commission’s goal was “to give rights to the gays, the lesbians, the people who have had sexual changes and things of that nature,” and the commission needed to be disbanded to keep the issue from returning to the City Council.

Mayor Holt said the vote to reestablish the commission was an example of compromise between a politically diverse council, and “validated, once again, that all are welcome I Oklahoma City and all are loved.”

Councilman Todd Stone (Ward 4) was a member of the task force and supported the re-establishment of the commission.

“I hate to disappoint people, but I have to vote with my heart,” Councilman Stone said, before using the common acronym for “What Would Jesus Do?”

Many of the commission’s opponents said it was more divisive than unifying.

Linda Curtis, who lives in Ward 8, said it would create contrast between groups rather than solve issues.

“We have come a long way, and I’m old enough to see that we have made a lot of improvements in our country,” Mrs. Curtis said.   “And I’d like to not bring up more problems more contention.  And I feel that’s what this commission would do.”

Councilman  Stonecipher (Ward 8) was a member of the task force, and said after his hours of meetings and research, he felt the commission was unnecessary due to the state and federal avenues that exist to address discrimination.

“As always, I went into this process with an open mind,” he said.

“The more I researched the clearer it became to me that the proposed city commission would be duplicative.”

Residents currently can file a discrimination complaint through the City Manager’s Office.

Complaints are then referred to the appropriate agency.

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