Human Rights Ordinance passes in Grand Rapids

Aug 28, 2019

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Joining me via phone in the WGVU News Room is Stacy Stout, Stacy is the Assistant to the City Manager of Grand Rapids, as Tuesday, the Grand Rapids City Commission voted unanimously to  approve the revised human rights ordinance. 

The ordinance, which was first introduced in April and has since been updated, makes it contrary to city policy for any person to deny an y individual the enjoyment of civil rights because of actual or perceived color, sexual orientation or any other protected class.

The policy includes making bias crime reporting a civil infraction, meaning it would be against city policy to call police and racially profile people of color for non-criminal matters, where the call is made solely as an act of discrimination.

And Stacy joins us now to discuss it, Stacy how are you today?

ST: Very excited. And thank you for having me. 

MJP: Stacy, can you tell me what happened last night? 

ST:  Yeah, so the um, the city commission and the mayor, the approved, uh, this historic ordinance called human rights, which does include the bias crime reporting, but it's for any of the protected classes and not just for folks of color. Um, in addition to a lot of other enhancements. So this will essentially replace the prior ordinance that was referred to as the community relations commission. So this is much more robust. Um, it's clear as far as processes and it's just more transparent and easy to, to read for the community and all to understand. 

MJP: So when we talk about human rights, I believe that before we had, um, a policy similar to this, but it was much shorter, there were no definitions of what it meant to be protected class. It was, um, it was hard to, you know, file a complaint. Um, what makes this different? 

ST: And that is one of the highlights of this ordinance. It's really having a place where folks can, um, bring their concerns. One Stop. Um, in the past folks would make a complaint and we're like, well, that's not under our jurisdiction. Here's another phone number or that's, oh, that's part of this jurisdiction. And so we'd give them an email and so now we're able to receive these, um, concerns and then we're able to have a formal referral process to those that have that. It's if it's under their jurisdiction or if it's not, then we would investigate. And so it's just a really, when someone, um, is experienced, uh, experiencing discrimination or they feel that that's very traumatic, right? That's very stressful. And for them to have to navigate the many systems, um, to this is more I guess, community friendly. And so that's really exciting that we're going to partner with Michigan Department of Civil Rights Fair Housing and others. 

MJP: So I believe you've talked about how the, this ordinance like ads, sections for clarity and transparency, right? Um, was this something that wasn't in place before? 

ST: Um, not in a written format of this way. And so like you said, the definition. So if we're going to have conversations and we do hope that this spurs conversations with neighbors and communities and families around not just the bias but what it really means to be inclusive community. And so adding a definitions helps with that language and what we mean, right? Cause there's a lot of missed understanding. Um, and so that was, I mean that's almost three pages long, right? So we edited that piece. And I think also being really clear on the role and responsibility of the community relations commission. I think at first they thought this volunteer table of leaders would be doing the investigation and vested patients really need to be by trained investigators. And so we clarified that and also expanded the table because part of the community relations commission charge is really to help build relationships, um, and communicate both between the city and the community and the community with the city. And so we just outlined that in a more clear way. Um, not only so they can do what they need to do, but also as others are interested in joining the CRC, they have a clear understanding of what that role is. 

MJP: So before this, as I understand, the CRC is a group of volunteer folks from the community that, um, started to look at this policy, right? Act started to look at creating this policy. Um, so now is it going to fall back on these folks to be the ones to decide if you know discrimination took place or is there going to be someone in the city who's going to be paid to ensure these, um, this ordinance is followed through? 

ST: Yes. No. So the CRC will not be investigating. They can be a referral. So if the, the interact with someone that feels that they have been, um, possibly, you know, the ordinance has been broken against them, um, they can refer them to the online complaint form that we're working on. Um, or the email or the phone are just coming into our office. So we want to have multiple avenues for folks to share their concerns. But they would not be doing an investigation. They would not be enforcing it. That would be, um, paid staff here at the city, specifically out of the office of diversity inclusion. We would work in partnership with the city attorney's office and possibly, um, the new office of oversight and public accountability. Susie, it's a paid him paid train investigator for sure. But we do expect a lot of the, um, a lot of the concerns that bring forward, um, we, we anticipate but we don't know. Right. Cause this is brand new that most of them will go through the formal referral process, which will work with those partners to, to kind of track where those referrals, how they ended up to the degree that we can under, you know, um, confidentiality rules. 

ST: Yeah. 

MJP:  So Stacy, for folks who may not be listening, who may be listening but may not know, can you take us back to the beginning of this thing? Like how did the Human Rights Ordinance become important for the city to take a look at it? Passing? 

ST: Yeah. So actually this has been almost two years in the making. Um, uh, Lyonel LaGrone who is, was the policy director at the time at link up a local community organization brought to us a 30 page draft ordinance. Um, I believe it was in November of 2017. Um, and when the community relations commission started working on it, then, um, to really shape it into an ordinance that works for the city. As far as our format and the language. They worked very hard on that. Um, also thinking about implementation cause it's one thing to have an ordinance as another thing to say, okay now how are we going to enforce it? And so they put a lot of work into that initial draft that came before, um, the city commission this past April. And then from there, um, I started in my new role overseeing the city's diversity, equity and inclusion work. 

I started working on this more intensely to really solidify the implementation plan and to go through it with a fine tooth comb to make sure that everything was what it needed to be in partnership. And of course I did it in partnership with attorneys cause I am not one. Um, and so the, the community was just fantastic. So we had a public hearing on April 23rd, a lot, almost all of them were in favor of it. And though in some just had questions, right. And they're like this isn't clear. This isn't clear. Which helped us to revise the ordinance that was brought before the city commission last night. And so it really, I want to say it really was a community effort. Um, every person that spoke or emailed, um, our sat out of work table to, to make sure that it was clear and that we're looking at it from a lot of different perspectives. So it truly is a community ordinance from Tommy Allen from the CRC and Patty Caudill from my office and Sherry Basner Attorney's office, um, really did a lot of the initial legwork and then, um, additional folks came in at the end to kind of bring it home. 

MJP: Why do you think it's so important to have an ordinance like this that protects, um, marginalized folks in our community? Why is this so important? 

ST: Well, we were not just, Oh, I would like to say that we've had this ordinance in another name, which was called the Community Relations Commission Ordinance. We probably have the oldest ordinance in the state. So we have had this and believed in protecting folks for, for decades. Right. Um, it's important because unfortunately we know that discrimination exists. Um, bias exists, whether it's conscious or unconscious, um, exist in policy, right? And so we talk about systemic Isms or systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, all of that. Um, this is a way to have folks reflect, um, and to think through some of the actions, whether they actions are phone calls or the actions or policy to say, how can we make sure we're not having any harmful impacts. My work in equity is really when folks just take time to reflect and really think about it and to get information when they know better. In my experience, most folks have wanted to do better. And so this ordinance is really important because it's gonna have folks really just, um, reflect a little bit more. And we're going do education around it too because the ordinance is one thing. But if folks don't know about the ordinance of what it really entails, then if it's not as helpful as it could be. So we are doing a community, um, awareness campaign this fall and into the winter and then quite frankly, annually as well. 

MJP: Can you tell me when the orange, well, the ordinance was worked yesterday, but when is it going to be effective? 

ST: And it's, this will be effective. December 1st, 2019. We have a lot of steps to put in place before the ordinance, before we're ready. Um, and so the online complaint form is really important and that we Beta test that with a lot of different users. The paper format, we also want to solidify, we started getting partnership agreements with those external investigator investigation agencies like the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. Um, so we just have shared understanding of the referral process, what's the communication going to be, what's the turnaround time. Um, we also want to do a really thoughtful community engagement, um, community education around this in the fall and winter like I had mentioned. Um, but then also we want to do some trainings internally with the staff. Um, whether it's nine one, one dispatch, um, to look at their training that they're currently getting. So as they get these calls, they can continue to, to vet into, um, preliminary assess if it's a bias call or if it's a real call that they have to deploy the officers too. So there's just a lot of work to do, but it is doable because in, in preparation and tests and tests and hoping that, that it would pass, we started planning already, but we couldn't fully plan until we knew it past 

MJP: One last thing, Stacy, I know that no ordinance, it says if someone is found to have violated the ordinance, they could face a civil infraction of up to $500. Can you explain that a bit more to me? 

ST: Yes. So this is a civil infraction. It's not a, um, misdemeanor. Um, and so as any civil infraction, there's our fees involved. Um, so if they were at the investigation show that they, they knowingly or recklessly, we did do a report or any violation, it's not just a bias crime report. I want to be clear that that is one paragraph in the overall 13 page ordinance. It's rather it's employment, practicing housing contracts, etcera. If they're found in violation of the ordinance, that could be one of the dependencies for that is a citation. 

MJP: Thank you so much, Stacy Stout. You are the assistant to the city manager in the city of grand rapids. Thank you so, so much for your time.