Human Rights Commission: Communication Can Fix ‘Adversarial Relationship’

Disagreement over how to address homelessness has strained communication between the county’s Board of Supervisors and Human Rights Commission but the two entities are working on closing the gap.

Ways to fix a disconnect between the board and the commission were discussed at the Sept. 6 supervisors meeting.

A presentation on the commission’s annual report was on the agenda and Nezzie Wade, who was the commission’s chair during the report’s time span, highlighted the year’s activities.

She said her group was “very committed” to lobbying for a shelter crisis declaration, which would allow the county to use its properties for emergency shelter and waive code requirements.

Wade said the commission wrote letters to the board asking for it to be put on a meeting agenda for discussion — including “open letters so the community would be aware” — but never got a response.

Individual supervisors were also asked, she continued.

“Though we were promised that it would happen, it did not happen,” said Wade. “So we were disappointed by that because homelessness is the quintessential issue we have in Humboldt County in terms of human rights and the violations of human rights that are happening on a daily basis.”

She added, “We hope that the board can do better with that and the Human Rights Commission can do better at holding you accountable for that.”

Supervisors discussed methods of managing communication without referring to the declaration request.

Jim Glover, the commission’s current chair, said there’s a need to “clarify the status of the Human Rights Commission — I don’t think we’d be having this conversation if that was clear.”

He told supervisors that communication between the board and the commission needs to be improved. “I just want to find a way to communicate better, to understand how we need to communicate with you so that we’re not in an adversarial situation all the time,” Glover said.

Supervisors skirted the shelter crisis declaration issue and Supervisors Virginia Bass and Estelle Fennell downplayed the idea of there being an “adversarial” relationship.

But Supervisor Ryan Sundberg directly responded to Wade’s comments on the declaration request.

“We got the letter and didn’t act on it, then there was another letter and then we saw letters to the editor,” he said. “And then you’re here today saying, ‘We’re going to hold you accountable’ — that can cause an adversarial relationship.”

Adding that “I felt that it was adversarial,” Sundberg suggested that a supervisor or two could come to one of the commission’s meetings and explain the reasons why a declaration hasn’t been pursued.

The discussion drifted back into process-oriented matters ranging from where the commission meets, its number of members and funding options for its activities.

Ultimately, County Administrative Officer Amy Nilsen said her staff will explore “ways to clarify the communication roles between your board and the (commission)” along with “the smorgasbord of other issues” that had been brought up.

In closing, Glover suggested that communication with Supervisor Rex Bohn is especially important.

“The only final comment I’d like to make is that I’d like to get to the point where Rex and I really agree on this issue and he sees the value in continuing this organization and recognizing the service that it does for the county,” he said.

Bohn didn’t respond directly to Glover’s comment.