The Human Rights Commission Will Depend On City Staff Having Time To Devote
The Rev. Uvie Stewart Jr. is a good choice by Mayor Eddie Sundquist to chair the city’s repopulated Human Rights Commission.
Stewart is a longtime city resident who recently retired from Cummins Inc. after a career as a machinist and as a frame straightener at Jamestown Metal Corp. It was during Stewart’s time at Cummins that he helped develop the Jamestown Engine Plant’s diversity program.
What’s more, anyone who takes the time to view any of Stewart’s messages posted to the Emmanuel Temple Church Facebook page can readily see Stewart has the type of demeanor one will need leading the Human Rights Commission. Stewart’s messages display a calmness and an understanding for his fellow man that are absolutely necessary to lead the Human Rights Commission.
“(Stewart) is someone who really understand the issues that different pockets of our community face,” Sundquist said to The Post-Journal on Tuesday. “In particularly for the position of chair person, we were looking for someone to help bring consensus to the commission to focus on the needs of the community and help educate our community on different ways of life.”
Stewart’s choice as chairperson shouldn’t overshadow the rest of Sundquist’s picks, particularly the inclusion of Billy Torres, a tireless advocate for Hispanic youth for years will be a welcome voice at the table; and Chris Blakeslee, a veteran who has worked in the non-profit sector since coming back to Jamestown.
Ultimately, however, the Human Rights Commission will only be as successful as the city staff it is allowed to access. Earlier this year, City Councilwoman Marie Carrubba, D-Ward 4 and former Human Rights Commission chairwoman, told The Post-Journal that the commission struggled when state grant funding for a staff position was eliminated. That staff person handled investigation, put out meeting notices, did minutes and other tasks. Without the staff person, Carrubba was forced to try to keep the commission viable while working a full-time job before the commission eventually began simply referring complaints to a state office in Buffalo.
Each of the people appointed by Sundquist has a life outside of the Human Rights Commission, so to expect them to treat the commission as its own full-time job is ultimately unrealistic. In an age of shrinking budgets caused by COVID-19, the success of the Human Rights Commission will depend on how much time existing city staff can devote to helping the commission’s work progress.