Rights panel friction triggers walkout
What seemed to be a routine monthly Crow Wing County Human Rights Commission meeting Tuesday about diversity training turned ugly in a hurry and had some members wondering what was going on.
In the middle of acting chair Carol Rose’s discussion, County Administrator Tim Houle — who was sitting on the opposite side of the table — interrupted and asked what she was discussing and said he had an item to discuss with the commission regarding disturbing reports that the county received about the commission. Houle said the complaints he received were the commission is highly divided, that it’s not running the meeting according to the bylaws and that there were housekeeping complaints, such as arguments of where the mail should be sent and who was in charge of the meetings.
Houle said, “This is petty bickering.”
Rose, who has served on the commission since 1998, responded by getting up from her seat in the conference room at Central Lakes College in Brainerd and announcing that she was resigning.
Rose said she resigned because of the lack of support from the county commissioners and because of the “shaming I received from Rosemary (Franzen, county commissioner, who was also at the meeting).”
Rose said, “I don’t need to be shamed again. I’ve been on this commission since it started and she (Franzen) told me if I quit this will fall apart. I try to get people on the board and for them to do things, but no one will do it. You come back shaming us ... never again.”
Houle told the commission that the Crow Wing County Board is in charge of the human rights commission and that it is their “ordinance” and if the commission doesn’t “get their house in order ... they will fix the problem. If I’m leaving any doubt in your minds, let me be clear on this you need to follow the bylaws to run this organization.”
Houle said the county does appreciate and understand what Rose has done for the commission. However, he said the commission has a set of bylaws that needs to be followed.
Before Rose walked out the door of the meeting, she also said that human rights commission member John Redding will not be back as he also resigned.
After Rose left, commission member Judy Rardin, who has been on the commission for two years, said to Houle, “I have a problem when you come in. I’ve never seen you before this and I have no idea what you are talking about and I am offended. I feel like I’m being scolded.
“You have three of us here who have been on the commission for awhile and we have no idea what you are talking about.”
Houle said, “I’m not picking sides. I have no sides.”
Houle said the multiple complaints the county had received were from people who were members of the board — not from the citizens in the county.
“We want you to follow the bylaws and have healthy conflict among each other and to keep the mission of the human rights commission.”
Joshua Heintzeman, who has been attending meetings since January, but just became a member a month ago, told Houle that there have been no roll calls, no minutes taken and he has had a lot of questions about the meetings and he didn’t know who to talk to.
Commission member Taylor Stevenson, who was appointed in February, said he doesn’t think there was any malice on either side. Stevenson said he did not think the word “bickering” was an appropriate word, but said there has been a lack of an agenda and that there are holes in the offices that are not filled on the commission.
Houle said, “Maybe bickering is the wrong word. I don’t get complaints from other organizations on who to call the meeting or where the mail should be sent. Forgive me, but I see this as petty ... It is a unresolved conflict. You need to get your house in order. This is more trouble than it is worth for the county board.”
When Houle left the meeting, Stevenson began to organize the board by using the bylaws to fill some vacancies since there was a quorum of six members at the meeting. The commission is a 13-member board. Heintzeman was nominated as chair, just for the next month, and Keri Heintzeman was nominated as the secretary.
Rardin congratulated Stevenson and the Heintzemans for their enthusiasm to get things in order.
“I congratulate you if you can do it,” said Rardin. “I hope I can be a part of it, the scolding we received and being told we are not following bylaws and not being productive I got the impression that the ones who have been on the commission for awhile should put their tail between their leg because they were ineffective. We had no idea this was going on.”
Heintzeman told Rardin that he does not want her to quit.
Stevenson said he didn’t take Houle’s words as a scolding. Stevenson said it doesn’t matter how long a member has been on the board, he said the commission needs to move forward.
“A majority of this has been an internal issue, not external ...That’s something that needs to be addressed,” said Stevenson.
Toward the end of the meeting, commission member the Rev. Deborah Celley, who has been on the commission for five years, said that she acknowledges that there have been leadership problems, but “that was really a cruel way to handle a personnel issue. It could have been done better.”
Commission member Nancy Paulson agreed with Celley. And then there was a long pause by the commission members before another word was spoken.
After the meeting adjourned, Rose, who was in another office at CLC, said, “I’ve asked the county for years to help with stuff ... I’ve been trying to get someone to chair the commission ever since Billie Dobbs resigned in April. No one wanted to do it.”
Rose said, “It’s sad (of her resignation.) I’ve been here since 1998 and do you think they could thank me? Why come here and holler at us. I asked for help.”
JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5851.