Latest proposal is realistic

A long and determined push to create a powerful Snohomish County Commission on Human Rights has run smack into a hard reality: the anemic county budget.

County Council Chairman Dave Gossett’s proposal to create a seven-member commission that — for now, at least — wouldn’t come with a paid director or investigators, is reasonable and realistic, despite the criticism it got last week from disappointed civil rights activists.

The recession has blown a hole in county revenues, as it has for most governments. New long-term projections show large and growing shortfalls, and it’s hard to imagine solutions that don’t include job cuts. Creating a new human rights office with a full-time director and two investigators can’t be justified against that likelihood.

For advocates who have worked earnestly and persistently on this, getting something at this point would be far better than getting nothing. It keeps their good work moving forward. Establishing a commission of volunteers, as Gossett proposes, will bring a higher profile to human and civil rights issues here — especially if those volunteers bring a high level of leadership, vision and energy to their work.

Laying a strong foundation now could lead to a structure with more teeth once the county budget picture improves. An active commission can raise awareness of racism and other forms of discrimination, and help direct alleged victims of discrimination to resources that are already available at the state and federal level.

Some frustration on the part of activists is understandable. But at a council meeting last week, it was misdirected at council members who have been supportive of advocates’ goals, but also must deal with painful budget realities.

A suggestion that because all five council members are white men in their 50s, they don’t adequately appreciate the issue, was unfair. Most have worked earnestly to keep the proposal moving forward, even in tough times; the ordinance proposed by Gossett is the latest example. (It will be the subject of a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. June 7.)

In recent years, various ideas for the commission’s structure have come forth from the community, legal opinions from the prosecuting attorney’s office have been issued, revisions have been made and debated. The process of creating a new bureaucracy should be a careful one, and that takes time.

Now, when much of that work has been completed, the worst economic downturn in generations has gotten in the way. It’s a case of bad timing, not bad faith.

Supporters should make the best of this situation by embracing Gossett’s proposal and, for now, committing to squeeze every drop of potential out of a new commission.

The vision of a community free of discrimination and cultural intolerance remains. The quest to realize it will continue.