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Green Bay Mayor, Alderwoman to propose ‘Equal Rights Commission’

Published: Jun. 30, 2020 at 6:04 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Two Green Bay leaders hope a new ordinance will remind everyone that discrimination will not be tolerated in the city.

In an exclusive interview on Tuesday, Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich and Alderwoman Barbara Dorff told Action 2 News about a new ordinance they’ve been working on in relation to equal rights.

After attending a fair housing presentation last year, Dorff learned the City of Green Bay doesn’t have a local anti-discrimination ordinance on the books in regard to housing.

“I said, ‘Yeah, we should have that,” said Dorff. “It’s something that has been important to me throughout my career to ensure all people are treated equally, equitably and fairly, so that is why it appealed to me to begin work on the ordinance.”

Dorff told city council members about it last year and since then, she has been working along Mayor Genrich to create an all-encompassing anti-discrimination ordinance.

“We’ve made the decision to expand it beyond anti-discrimination, with regard to housing, and include employment and public accommodations,” said Genrich.

“There’s federal law and state law and I think it’s just another step for us to say, ‘This will not be tolerated in City of Green Bay’,” said Dorff.

Another component of the ordinance would include the creation of an Equal Rights Commission. All nine members would be appointed by the mayor.

“LGBTQ folks will be represented, members of the Latinx community, African American residents as well so a broad swath of folks will be represented on the equal rights commission,” said Genrich. “Our intent is to give a voice to everybody in this community and send a message that everybody’s welcome here.”

If the ordinance passes city council, members will also have to approve the mayor’s appointees.

“I think it’s really important that when I’m making my appointments … that we’re identifying individuals who are in this for the long haul. We’re really committed to diversity and inclusion and committed to the City of Green Bay and really want to see this through,” said Genrich.

The commission would create a place for community members to talk about issues of diversity, equity and discrimination.

“It’s very open ended, but the goal is really for the commission to identify where we can make connections to all members of the community, make sure that that we’re giving voice to all people, regardless of background or orientation or identity, and make sure that everybody feels plugged in and part of Green Bay,” said Genrich. “They will be tasked with regularly communicating with council and with the mayor’s office and producing different reports about diversity, equity and inclusion in the community.”

“It’s similar to the ethics commission that we have,” said Dorff. “Sometimes you don’t know that things are going on and there isn’t, maybe, an easy way for people to communicate concerns they have about discrimination.”

If a discrimination complaint is brought before the commission, it will be handed over to the city attorney’s office to investigate. Violators of the ordinance could face a fine of up to $1,000.

“It’s also important to recognize that if there is state or federal jurisdiction for these violations, that’s where these complaints will be forwarded. It’s only in the instances where there isn’t like a state or a federal remedy, where fines will be issued locally,” said Genrich.

When Action 2 News asked the mayor if there would be a cost associated with the creation of a new commission, he said, “No, I mean, you know, nominal costs just in terms of city staff having to staff the commission, but nothing additional to what we budgeted.”

“I am certain there will be concerns, but I hope we will have a rich and full discussion,” said Dorff. “I hope we will be able to assure the majority of council that this is in the best interest of the City of Green Bay.”

“I think the Equal Rights Commission, the non-discrimination ordinance itself, is an important message to send that Green Bay is open, welcoming and is really interested in changing and meeting the needs of everybody in the community,” said Genrich.

Genrich and Dorff plan to propose the equal rights ordinance this summer. If everything goes as planned, they hope to have the equal rights commission up and running this fall.

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