Published in the November 15, 2016 edition.
By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — The Wakefield Human Rights Commission was established one year ago and last night the commission’s leadership appeared before the Board of Selectmen to provide an update on their first year.
Chairman William Chetwynd and Vice Chairman Robert Vincent reviewed the makeup of the commission, which consists of four members appointed by the Board of Selectmen, three appointed by the School Committee, one member appointed by the Police Department and a student member appointed by the Superintendent of Schools.
The current membership of the Human Rights Commission includes Chetwynd and Vincent, along with David Watts Jr. (secretary), Kara Cohen, Pina Masciarelli-Patel, Richard Greif, Officer Amy Toothaker (police representative), Christina Freni (student representative) and three ex-officio members, Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio, Police Chief Rick Smith and School Superintendent Dr. Kim Smith.
Chetwynd told the board about some of what the commission has been involved in during their first year, which he said was focused on organization and education. They have developed website, a Facebook page, established an email address ([email protected]) and created a brochure.
The commission has actively participated in local events, Chetwynd said, including Wakefield 101 and the Wakefield Farmers Market (three times). They have also participated in the Wakefield Public Schools International Night and Festival Italia.
Chetwynd told the selectmen that the Wakefield Human Rights Commission has reached out to Human Rights Commissions in other towns, including Melrose and Reading. They have also made connections with the Massachusetts Association of Human Rights Commissions and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.
The commission has also developed policies and procedures, Chetwynd said, and turned to Vincent to discuss those.
The policies and procedures were developed, Vincent said, because the group thought that it was important for the selectmen, the School Committee and the citizens of the town to know what the commission’s functions and powers were. They looked at policies and procedures of other local boards and committees as well as other towns’ Human Rights Commissions.
Vincent said that the policies and procedures delineate many of the educational components that the commission is looking to undertake. The commission’s Policies and Procedures list their powers and duties as follows:
1. To enter into collaborative efforts with federal, state, town and public agencies and private organizations in order to eliminate unlawful discrimination, prejudice and intolerance in Wakefield.
2. To enter into collaborative efforts with racial, religious and ethnic groups, civic and community organizations and other community-based groups in order to promote mutual respect and human rights, accept individual differences and cultivate an atmosphere of mutual understanding and harmonious group relationships.
3. To develop and sponsor outreach efforts and educational programs devoted to carrying out the Commission’s mission.
4. To provide advice concerning discrimination complaints filed with the Town of Wakefield, when such advice is requested by the Town Administrator.
5. To be available, if requested, to review and make recommendations about policies, procedures, services, activities and facilities of the departments, boards and agencies of the Town of Wakefield.
6. To provide information, referrals and guidance to individuals, public agencies, businesses and organizations in all matters pertaining to human and civil rights.
7. To actively recruit, review and recommend prospective members of the Commission to the Board of Selectmen and School Committee.
8. To provide a written report to be included in the Annual Town Report.
Vincent said that the commission’s powers and jurisdiction in terms of enforcement are limited. He reviewed a “Discrimination Complaint Form” developed by the commission. He told the selectmen that any complaint would be forwarded to the Town Administrator, who could then choose to consult with the commission for advice.
Chetwynd provided a preview of the Human Rights Commissions plans for the coming year. He said that the commissioners plan to continue their education programs and to be a presence at local events.
A community-wide Martin Luther King Jr. event for early next year is in the planning stages as well as a possible 9/11 event in 2017.
In the meantime, Chetwynd said that the commission will continue develop and execute its 2017 strategic plan and work on issues present to them. They will continue to work with Town Administrator Maio, the Police Department and other town departments and local organizations as requested.
Chetwynd said that the commission wants to become a place where people and organizations can go to when the need arises.
Selectman Phyllis Hull said that she was pleased to see that the commission’s policies and procedures included limiting the terms of members to two three-year terms. Hull said that it was important to give more people a chance to participate by limiting the number of terms that someone could serve.