Portland's volunteer-led Human Rights Commission has asked for more independence from City Hall.
The request comes amid changes at Portland's Office of Human Relations, which formed in 2008 under then-Mayor Tom Potter. It oversees the Human Rights Commission, which "advocates for and takes positive action toward eliminating discrimination, racism and bigotry."
In February, Mayor Sam Adams announced a new Office of Equity that will most likely subsume the Office of Human Relations and the Human Rights Commission. According to members of the rights commission, the group was not told of this development before Adams presented his new idea at his third annual State of the City address. Shortly after that, Commissioner Amanda Fritz, whom Adams tapped to lead the new equity office, asked the then-director of the human relations office to step down. Maria Lisa Johnson subsequently resigned.
Donita Fry, chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission, says it has long been the goal of the commission to put the mandate for the commission in the City Charter. Yet it appears the recent proposed changes to the office have given the group a new sense of urgency, a letter to the Charter Commission from the human rights groups suggests.
"We believe a charter amendment would insure the continuity and sustainability of a Human Rights Commission in Portland. There have been many human rights commissions in this city and region. All have been subject to political maneuvering and budget cuts. This request comes at a critical time for us, as our work and efforts have been compromised by the resignation of our bureau director," Fry wrote in a March 31 letter to the city Charter Commission.
A request for a charter amendment, if approved by the Charter Commission or City Council, would have to go to Portland voters for approval, according to the city auditor's office. The earliest possible vote would be May 2012.