Lebanon council votes against creating human relations commission

A citizen expresses his opinion about a proposed Human Relations Commission ordinance before Lebanon City Council Tuesday. After a public hearing that lasted for more than an hour, council voted 5-2 against the proposal. ED RICHTER/STAFF
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A citizen expresses his opinion about a proposed Human Relations Commission ordinance before Lebanon City Council Tuesday. After a public hearing that lasted for more than an hour, council voted 5-2 against the proposal. ED RICHTER/STAFF

LEBANON — A proposal to create a human relations commission here was turned down Tuesday by Lebanon City Council.

Nearly 40 people attended the council meeting offering their comments for and against the proposal. Council voted 5-2 against the proposed ordinance citing that a private/public nonprofit partnership would be more effective rather than another governmental board.

The proposed commission would have consisted of citizens appointed by city council to “research, investigate and discuss current available information, methods and approaches that address discrimination, bias and prejudice within Lebanon and similar sized communities” and report back with recommendations.

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In August 2020, council unanimously adopted a resolution denouncing racism, prejudice and discrimination and resolved to continue to work for change in the community on these issues. The Human Relations Commission was thought by some residents as a next step.

Some residents said an human relations commission is needed to help the community address racial and other issues. Several citizens making comments declined to identify themselves citing concerns of retaliation or retribution by other residents who disagree with them.

One man asked why local faith leaders have not been asked to assist the city in developing a dialogue. He said Lebanon has a long history of racism, adding “some human relations commissions have done good work for their communities, while other human relations commissions are divisive and have become political hammers.”

About 93% of Lebanon’s population is white and less than 3% is Black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Statewide, about 82% of Ohio’s population is white and more than 13% is Black.

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“I think we need to have an advisory committee,” said resident Steve Edwards. He said he put up a Black Lives Matter sign that irritated a neighbor who suggested he should move away.

Raye Kimberlin of the MLK Community Coalition of Lebanon, believes an HRC would be a positive for the city. She asked council to address past and present discrimination as people of color have been affected by white supremacists.

“A Human Relations Commission would speak to all people of Lebanon,” she said. “A Human Relations Commission would bring different kinds of people together and discuss issues.”

The proposal was introduced earlier this month by Councilwomen Kristy Wyatt and Wendy Monroe. Wyatt asked how the city got to the point where Lebanon is perceived as being a racist community.

“The issue may not be as bad as we think and this (HRC) could be a good thing,” Wyatt said.

Monroe said she was concerned the city could lose talent and possible economic growth. “It’s good to talk about different subjects. We have to be at the table to get us to the next level.”

However, the majority of council agreed there should be community dialogue, but did not think creating another public board was the answer.

Councilman Doug Shope said he did not think an HRC would be a good tool. “I think this will create problems we don’t have and it won’t solve the ones we do have.”

Councilman Joe Shaffer raised concerns that there was no budget for the proposed commission, concerned that an HRC might be dominated by a few groups, and said it should be a nonprofit organization.

Mayor Amy Brewer said she has “learned a tremendous amount” throughout all of the discussions. She has also seen “ugliness, bullying, labeling of groups and people, and politics entering into it... It was sad to see that. It was absolutely disheartening.” Brewer also believes this could be better accomplished through a nonprofit public/private partnership.

“I believe the community needs to work together,” she said. “The power of positive change starts with community members. It starts with all of us.”