A year after dissolving its Human Rights Commission, the Anoka City Council has voted unanimously to reinstate the organization and recognize it as an official city entity.
But the commission's fate still hinges on the decision of a group that successfully petitioned to get the issue on the November ballot after the council disbanded it in March. Voters would be asked if they want the Human Rights Commission (HRC) to exist as a city commission.
Petitioners have yet to agree to pull the ballot question, said Susan Dergantz, a resident who led the petition drive and has been an advocate for keeping the HRC.
"That decision has not been made yet," she said.
Even if the petitioners rescind their ballot request, Dergantz said she isn't sure how the HRC will operate. In a separate 4-1 vote Tuesday, the City Council approved a resolution acknowledging the group's revised mission and vision to act as a "resource and conduit" between citizens and agencies that provide public services and investigate human rights issues.
"I'm glad there is going to be something," Dergantz said. "I don't know how effective it will be."
The council looked at disbanding the HRC in August 2020 due to the commission's inactivity, though ultimately shied away from dissolving it at that time. But in March 2021, the council decided to remove the commission from the city charter, saying the organization would be better served operating as an independent nonprofit rather than as an advisory group under the auspices of the city.
Council Member Elizabeth Barnett, who introduced the resolution to disband the HRC, said at that March meeting that the commission had struggled to operate within the government's structure and had a list of goals that promote "highly politically charged and controversial" topics.
With its revised mission, vision, goals and responsibilities to include resources that are neutral and nonpolitical, Barnett on Tuesday said she was in favor of reinstating the commission.
"I am very comfortable with that direction going forward," she said.
Before the council's vote, Jody Anderson, another petitioner, implored the council to bring the commission back.
"People need a nonthreatening place to share concerns and problems in community," she said. It's difficult for people from underrepresented groups to share concerns in environments like City Council meetings, Anderson said, and having an HRC shows "all citizens are valued, not just those with the loudest and angriest voices. We can learn from each other if we choose to let it happen."