Human Relations Council sees spike in discrimination cases, restructures

Dayton Human Relations Council staff Jacob Davis and Joann Mawasha at a city commission meeting this month. Davis is the senior civil rights investigator, while Mawasha is the assistant executive director. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
Dayton Human Relations Council staff Jacob Davis and Joann Mawasha at a city commission meeting this month. Davis is the senior civil rights investigator, while Mawasha is the assistant executive director. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Dayton’s Human Relations Council will restructure and add staff at a time when it has seen an increase in discrimination complaints.

“We do not consider an increase in discrimination complaints to be a good trend,” said Erica Fields, the council’s executive director, which seeks to ensure fair treatment and equal opportunities in the city. “However, we are encouraged that more residents see our work in the community and trust us to fully and fairly investigate their complaint and come to a resolution on their issue.”

In the second quarter of this year, the Human Relations Council saw a 300% increase in informal complaints and a 71% increase in open (formal) complaints, staff said.

HRC resolved 31 informal complaints, and closed and resolved 10 formal complaints in the first half of the year, said Jacob Davis, the group’s senior civil rights investigator.

The organization resolved less than 15 informal complaints in the first half of 2020, and closed and resolved eight formal ones, he said.

At the end of the second quarter of this year, the council had 12 open investigations ― which was up from seven at the end of the first quarter.

The increases are worrisome, staff say, and might reflect growing concerns about the expiring eviction moratorium, as well as increased education about the organization and more referrals from the Dayton Mediation Center.

Also, about 11 informal complaints came after an incident in May at an apartment building on Linda Vista Avenue in which several residents moved into temporary housing because of unsafe conditions. At least three complaints mentioned they became aware of the Human Relations Council after learning about the Linda Vista incident, staff said.

The Dayton Human Relations Council board met earlier this week. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
The Dayton Human Relations Council board met earlier this week. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

The HRC currently has seven full-time city employees, one contract worker, one consultant, one part-time worker and two temporary positions. When the organization’s restructuring is complete, it will have 11 full-time city employees and two consultants.

These positions will expand the council’s capacity to take on new cases and conduct more training for residents, housing providers, employers and businesses, Fields said.

HRC has reestablished three positions that were eliminated during the pandemic for cost-cutting reasons: the business and technical assistance administrator, a senior contract compliance officer and an executive secretary. Instead of being contract workers, the executive secretary and compliance officer will be full-time staff, officials said.

The organization’s civil rights division also has rebranded as the Office of Justice and Inclusion, and will grow from one employee to three.

The council has expanded its investigative and enforcement capacity, and the realignment hopefully will help the city better reach small-, women- and minority-owned businesses in low- to moderate-income areas, said Joann Mawasha, deputy director of the HRC.

She said the changes also should help the HRC increase opportunities for outreach and education.

The HRC’s resources now seem sufficient for the organization to be effective and able to achieve its mission, Dayton City Commissioner Darryl Fairchild said. Fairchild earlier this year voted against the city’s 2021 budget, saying he had concerns that his priorities weren’t funded, including the council.

The restructuring hopefully will strengthen the Human Relations Council and make it more connected to the community, Dayton City Commissioner Chris Shaw said.