After final plea, EDC supervisors disband Human Rights Commission

Eric Jaramishian / Mountain Democrat
El Dorado County residents Lorraine King, Michel Brandt, Robin Valicenti, Janet Rossi and Esther Figueroa demonstrate their disapproval of the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors' decision to disband the Human Rights Commission. The protest came at Tuesday's board meeting, March 21, where supervisors heard a final reading of an ordinance that dissolves the commission.
Eric Jaramishian/Mountain Democrat

The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, March 21, saw one final attempt to stop the Human Rights Commission from being disbanded. 

A final reading for an ordinance to dissolve the commission indefinitely became a consent item, meaning a formal discussion among supervisors would not commence, but some residents did not let the topic slide. 

Inside board chambers protestors carried signs with messages of oppression or discrimination to show their disapproval of the board action.

“Human rights affect all of us at every facet of our lives,” said Michel Brandt, an El Dorado Hills resident. “We are bringing up young children and if they do not understand that everyone has value and importance, then they are growing up in a void.”

Brandt, like others who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, expressed concern the county was doing away with a resource meant to promote tolerance and respect among different genders, races, religions and individuals experiencing homelessness.

Placerville resident Janet Rossi wrote a letter to the board, one of many supporting the Human Rights Commission, questioning the issues that sparked the board’s divided decision.

“Our county is already known for its bias against and less than welcoming attitude toward people of color and minorities and this would seem to support that perspective,” Rossi writes. “That is exactly why there should be a Human Rights Commission. It is of no great cost to the county and does not consume taxpayer dollars. Even if it is at present functioning less than efficiently (which I heard is the reason for disbanding), it still serves a purpose and has the potential for improving. Despite multiple political issues around other commissions, they were not disbanded.”

The goal of the commission when it was formed in 2018 was to collect data on human rights violations in the county and make reports to the board while spreading awareness on human rights issues. 

According to former commissioner Robin Valicenti, the county is losing that portal for marginalized people and “silencing many voices here in the county.”

“(The board’s) decision is negligent and poor governance and will cause harm to the homeless, LGBTQ individuals, refugees, everyone,” Valicenti told the Mountain Democrat. 

Some constituents, as well as supervisors, felt the commission had gotten too political and lacked guidance on its duties, which Valicenti called “reframing the situation to justify removing the commission.”

“We were mostly a testimony-based commission, all about education and we never did anything political,” Valicenti said. 

Although members of the board sit on the commission at any given time, Supervisor Lori Parlin previously stated a lack of resources provided by the county to the commission has made its operation difficult. 

“This has been an item of concern for quite some time,” Parlin said Tuesday, referring a meeting held in 2020 regarding the commission when the board discussed giving commissioners implicit bias training and other de-bias training. 

“The reason there was a recommendation to disband (the commission) at that time was because there was risk to the county without proper training, so I feel like we are following that direction from back then,” Parlin added. 

Then Chief Administrative Officer Don Ashton recommended either providing more resources to the commission or disbanding it altogether at that Sept. 29, 2020, meeting.

The board has bounced around ideas to address human rights issues at the government level including implementing a county liaison to the El Dorado chapter of the nonprofit Bridging Divide, which addresses growing social and political disparities in communities, implementing a single civil rights commissioner and creating a statement in the board’s Good Governance Handbook stating its commitment of holding values of human rights. 

While the latter is the only formal plan the county has, Board Chair Wendy Thomas said she is in talks with county Superintendent of Schools Ed Manansala to address discrimination issues in the county’s schools.

“We share your heart and we look forward to seeing which way this goes,” Thomas said, addressing the public. 

Regardless, the public expressed disappointment in the board’s divided vote. Supervisors John Hidahl and Brooke Laine voted “no” on disbanding the commission. 

“This (decision) reflects systematic racism and discrimination against the rights of others,” commented El Dorado Hills resident Esther Figueroa, who said she and her children have experienced racial profiling living in the county. “It is just excuses for government to close these doors and we cannot advance on these issues. It is a disregard for kids too because this affects them.”

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