Durango took one more step toward founding a human-rights commission on Thursday.
After listening to presentations by public and private consultants in the Sunlight Room of the Durango Community Recreation Center, local leaders agreed to carry the idea back to the City Council next week and hold it to a 2008 resolution agreeing to establish a commission.
Representatives from the Durango Police Department, the San Juan Citizens Alliance, La Plata County and Fort Lewis College spoke about funding and goals for the proposed commission. Several participants noted the absence of 9-R School District representatives, who were invited; and representatives from the local church and business communities, which were not.
"I think the missing ingredient right now would be the school district," said John F. Dulles of the Broomfield company Human Rights Consultancy, after the meeting, "but I don't want to be overly critical of them without knowing what their reasons for not attending were."
After introductory questions were answered by Dulles and Philip Arreola of the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service, Kit Chalberg of the Community Relations Service presented his PowerPoint presentation, "Guidelines for Effective Human Rights Commissions."
"I don't want to suggest to you that an HRC just stays focused on race; it absolutely does not," Chalberg said, "although because of the demographics down here, that is potentially a large piece of the services we'd provide."
He said human-rights commissions deal with questions of disparities involving gender, disabled residents, age discrimination and the socio-economic divide, among others. He illustrated success stories from human-rights commissions in Pueblo, Boulder and Greeley and described the value of promoting healthy intergroup relations in small jurisdictions. Groups in Cortez and the Navajo Nation already have begun establishing human-rights commissions, Dulles said.
Fort Lewis College representative Bill Brown said he has seen rifts among local high school students, between "ranch kids" and students who live in town.
He said he thought the economic divide in the region would be an important area of focus.
In 1998, the Durango City Council passed a resolution agreeing to set up a human-rights commission. In 2008, the council picked up the cause again. With a new council to be seated at Tuesday's meeting, Eddie Soto, executive director of Los Compañeros, said it was a perfect time to re-present the issue, this time through an organized front.
A human-rights commission would be active in conducting surveys, conflict resolution and community education, he said, and not in enforcement, oversight or incident investigation.
As for staffing the commission, Dulles said after the meeting he thought finding commission members and volunteers would not cost the city much, though he did not cite specific numbers. A Department of Justice pamphlet recommends a paid staff or a paid director to assist in day-to-day operations of a commission.
As a consultant, Dulles pitches to community groups across the state. He cited two principal objections: Some oppose a new layer of government bureaucracy, and some say their communities lack strife among differing groups.
Attendants agreed to organize a strategic meeting at 3 p.m. Monday at the Palace Restaurant patio. Soto said interested residents are welcome to attend.