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September 1, 2013

New Albany: A highly ethical city?

Ethics, human rights commissions still haven’t heard a case

NEW ALBANY — The New Albany Human Rights and Ethics Commissions were established by the city more than a year ago, but to date, neither have heard cases.

Some see that as a positive reflection of New Albany, while others believe the boards should be more involved in the process of selecting what they review.

“It seems like the human rights commission has been kind of pushed to the back burner a little bit,” commission member Brad Bell said.

The board — which was established in July of 2012 — hasn’t heard a case, which is somewhat suspicious, he continued.

“We’d love to think it’s because the community is so diverse and open is the reason we don’t have any [complaints], but I think we all know a little better than that,” Bell said.

According to city officials, only one complaint was filed for a Human Rights Commission review, but that matter was resolved before it was presented to the body.

The procedure calls for complaints to be submitted to the city’s legal department for review, and then forwarded to the five-member commission if deemed necessary.

Bell said the policy for accepting complaints has been discussed by the commission.

“I feel very strongly that the take-in process of complaints needs to be changed,” he said.

The commission can rule on cases that involve racial, sexual or gender discrimination, but it is the council that sets the body’s authority and the procedure for handling those complaints.

Councilman Greg Phipps sponsored the measure to establish the human rights commission. Bell said the commission hasn’t approached Phipps yet about changing any of the board’s procedures, and the councilman said Friday he’s comfortable with the current format of the process.

As for whether the commission should consider addressing issues on a wider scale beyond submitted complaints, Phipps said the body was not shaped to search out problems unilaterally.

“There’s different points of view on that, but I think we set the commission up to be more reactive than proactive,” he said.

Messages and phone calls to city attorneys Stan Robison and Shane Gibson on Friday had not been returned or were unsuccessful as of press time.

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