Sullivan County’s draft human rights law sees some changes

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ 
Posted 7/14/20

MONTICELLO, NY —  On July 9, when Sullivan County’s committees began meeting for the first time since the pandemic hit, the situation with the Human Rights Commission showed up front …

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Sullivan County’s draft human rights law sees some changes

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MONTICELLO, NY —  On July 9, when Sullivan County’s committees began meeting for the first time since the pandemic hit, the situation with the Human Rights Commission showed up front and center in the first meeting of the Health and Human Services Committee. 

The commission has been moribund since the beginning of the year when the terms of three commissioners expired and nobody was appointed to take their place. An executive director position has been empty since fall of last year. 

A new Sullivan County Human Rights Law is being drafted to replace the previous bylaws. 

A couple of changes in the draft legislation were apparent. First, the number of commissioners looks to be set at nine. 

A major concern in Thursday’s discussion was that the new commissioners would be as geographically diverse as the county. Some legislators connected that to the new law’s proposal that the legislature take control of the appointment process for new commissioners, rather than leaving it to the commission. (Previously, the commission made the selections and the legislature approved them). 

Nine commissioners, it was pointed out, meant that one could come from each district, ensuring that all parts of the county were represented. And the legislators would be best positioned to recommend the ideal candidate in their district. 

“We need people who are connected with their communities,” said District 2 Legislator Nadia Rajsz (D), “people who are approachable,” so that those having trouble will feel comfortable asking for help. 

“It becomes that legislator’s responsibility if [a commissioner they recommended] is not showing up or not doing the right thing... to approach him. ‘Listen, I put you on there, what do you think you’re doing?’ I think it would make the board a lot more effective,” said District 8 Legislator Ira Steingart (D).

Another potential change is that the executive director would answer to the Commissioner of Human Resources; confidentiality was cited as a reason.

Earlier, legislator chair Rob Doherty (R) addressed concerns that the legislature is bypassing the previous commission as it works on the new law. “I am in constant contact with the former members of the Human Rights Commission, and we are diligently wading through our differences to where both sides are comfortable. The future law, under which the Human Rights Commission will continue, will be influenced by these ongoing discussions.” 

A public hearing on Sullivan County’s proposed human rights law is scheduled for 9:50 a.m. on Thursday, July 16. Discussion by the legislature will take place on Thursday, July 23.

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