Snohomish County civil rights plan criticized

  • Mon May 3rd, 2010 10:42pm
  • News

By Noah Haglund Herald Writer

EVERETT — Civil rights activists pushing for a Snohomish County Commission on Human Rights gave county councilmen an earful Monday about a proposal they say is weak and beholden to other parts of county government.

There also was displeasure that the issue has taken three years to get this far.

“I have to say I was very disappointed in the way that it was structured,” Marvetta Toler of Marysville said. “It does not leave any autonomy for the commission and I think it is in direct conflict with what is currently going on in the county government.”

The comments came during a regular council meeting. On Wednesday, the County Council is expected to set a hearing date in the coming weeks.

Local civil-rights activists want Snohomish County to have a civil-rights commission similar to ones in King County, Seattle and Tacoma. Supporters envisioned a system to investigate bias complaints about jobs, housing and access to public services. The commission also would try to raise public awareness about discrimination.

Some of the eight people who spoke Monday suggested the five county councilmen, who are all white men in their 50s, didn’t take the issue seriously and were slow to act.

Councilman Dave Somers said that isn’t the case and spoke of the discrimination he witnessed in the community toward Indians during 18 years working for the Tulalip Tribes. As an example of another piece of legislation that has taken longer than the human rights commission, Somers pointed to urban center zoning, which was introduced nine years ago and is likely to pass this month.

“I know the other individuals on the County Council and I know they all care deeply about these issues,” he said. “This is an important issue. We’re not stonewalling.”

Council Chairman Dave Gossett introduced the proposed ordinance last month. The plan would create an advisory commission, though any ability to enforce civil-rights violations would have to wait because of the county’s tight budget. Enforcement duties would be handled by a separately created office of human rights.

People who have advocated local civil-rights enforcement said the Washington State Human Rights Commission would be able to help the county through free training and other support. Councilman Mike Cooper said he would like to have state officials specify, in writing, what help is available.

A common criticism of the new proposal Monday was that it placed the commission under the authority of the county executive. The planning department, which the executive oversees, has had its director fired over indecent exposure and sexually motivated assault allegations at a golf tournament. The planning department also is the subject of a nearly $1 million sexual harassment lawsuit filed against the county last month by a former employee.

The human rights commission has to be under the county executive’s authority because that’s where Snohomish County charter says any such commissions have to go, Gossett said. All other jurisdictions the county has studied also put the commission under the executive branch of government, he said.

The current proposal calls for an advisory panel of seven volunteers appointed by the county executive. The commission would serve unincorporated Snohomish County and cities that agree to participate.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.