PRINCETON: Civil rights commission should be independent


Daniel A. Harris, Princeton
I am encouraged to learn that Princeton Council is poised to pass an ordinance to reinstate the town’s Civil Rights Commission (CRC), which has been dormant for nearly 20 years. We should all thank Mayor Lempert and council for giving the new ordinance such a thorough review.
We live in a dangerous time when no municipality dare consider itself exempt from concerns about civil rights (whether legal, cultural, or ethical). Princeton, especially with its progressive stands on so many issues, should be a model for the state and the nation in this matter, also.
Civil rights belong to all of us; no person should be denied adequate access to those rights. Princeton must put in place adequate structures and procedures for resolving civil rights conflicts: touchy-feely community “education” and “outreach” do not alone suffice. Matters of civil rights should not be left as simply one of many responsibilities assumed by our Human Services Department.
What we need is an independent civil rights commission, whose sole responsibility is to attend to matters of civil rights in a comprehensive manner. That CRC should manage conflict resolution through structured mediation, however informal, and with an adequate staff of Princeton volunteer citizens. Under current structures, it is only the (solo) executive director of the Human Services Department who deals with matters of civil rights. That person is de facto an employee of the town. To be effective, the CRC must be perceived as independent by residents, as well as visitors. In addition, the executive director of Human Services may be simply be overworked.
Citizens or visitors should be able to register civil rights complaints with either the revived CRC or the HS Department, as they choose, according to their needs and temperaments. Establishing this second, independent point for “intake” of civil rights complaints will give to individuals and the town alike a profile of impartiality. “Intake forms” should be identical for both the CRC and the HS Department. If possible, the information should be shared with the administrator.
Princeton has become a leader as an age-friendly and a bike-friendly community. It is a state leader in matters of sustainability. None of us can afford to be less than proud of our community and governance for our outspoken transparency and vigilance in matters of civil rights. 
Daniel A. Harris 
Princeton 