RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) _ The seven members of the Rapid City Human Rights Commission will in three weeks be able to enforce their recently granted powers to issue subpoenas, cross-examine witnesses and order remedies if they believe someone has been discriminated against in the city.
The Rapid City Journal (http://bit.ly/1eBIieu ) reported on Sunday that a proposal to give enforcement powers to the commission, which was hammered out over nearly five months, was approved during a City Council meeting earlier this month. The plan has raised concerns because some feared it could be abused and would be costly to the city.
The ordinance covers complaints of discrimination based on race, color, sex, creed, ancestry, disabilities or family relationships. It also outlines a broad jurisdiction, enabling the commission to investigate complaints against employers, labor organizations, schools, landlords, businesses, from hotels to credit unions, among other entities.
Under the new ordinance, the commission is allowed to compel witnesses during investigations conducted by the City Attorney’s Office. The commission would then decide how to resolve a claim with probable cause handed down from an assistant city attorney.
Councilwoman Charity Doyle, who voted against the measure, told the newspaper that proponents of the ordinance did not show a need for it. She said the new ordinance gives too much power to a board, which is not required to have specialized training and has a meager budget of $1,000.
“A true and verified need would have had to been presented,” Doyle said. “We (city council members) don’t even have these powers.”
But Mayor Sam Kooiker, the driving force behind the measure, said the city needs the authority to resolve discrimination disputes that can occur in multiple setting _ from the workplace to a bar.
“This new ordinance allows us to handle cases in the same way that the state would handle them,” Kooiker said. “The ordinance contains an opt-out that allows people to go directly to the state. It gives a local option, which improves the process.”
The Rapid City Area Chamber of Commerce had opposed the proposal, citing “lack of training” and the “duplication of services” among its concerns.
The commission is made up of seven unpaid members. The panel must include at least three members who have a “favorable reputation for skill, knowledge and experience” in the business world.