Craig Lowe – Member of the Blue Ribbon Committee
The equal opportunity office was originally formed in the late 1970’s to investigate and resolve cases of alleged discrimination in city government. In 1992, police raided the Equal Opportunity Department office and confiscated records in response to complaints from City Attorney Marion Radson and then-acting City Manager Karen Johnson that conversations were being illegally taped at the EOD. Three former investigators for the EOD filed federal lawsuits claiming racism, retaliation and denial of due process. Even though none of the cases were successful, the department was dismantled in 1995.
After city attorney Wayne Bowers proposed reorganizing the EOD, a new director of the equal opportunity office was hired in 1998 and charged with designing an affirmative action plan and finding a way to restore the EOD. In the spring of 1999, after these efforts to renew the EOD had failed, more than 200 people attended the city commission meeting to demand a more effective means to combat discrimination. They demanded the creation of an independent equal opportunity officer with charter status to protect him from interference by other charter officers, such as the city manager.
A blue ribbon committee was appointed to recommend to the city how to deal with discrimination complaints. The idea of an equal opportunity office is a relatively new concept. Only a few other cities have established such offices. A charter office would be empowered under the city constitution to answer to the city commission.
The city had previously entered into a contract with the county to oversee enforcement of discrimination cases in the private sector. All of the city’s discrimination regulations were therefore repealed except discrimination on account of sexual orientation which the county’s regulations did not cover. The blue ribbon committee recommended that the city reinstate the regulations and establish a charter office to oversee enforcement. The city commission voted 4-1 to establish a charter office, with only Paula DeLaney voting “no.”
The charter office can be established by one of three different routes: either through action of the legislative delegation, through city-wide ballot, or by collecting signatures on a petition.
The simplest route to establish the office is through action of the legislative delegation. However, some of the legislators, including Rod Smith, Ed Jennings, Jr., and Perry McGriff, who had previously promised to support the measure, have balked because proposal for the charter office includes wording prohibiting discrimination on account of sexual orientation. Currently, efforts are underway to have the issue placed on a city-wide ballot.