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Editorial: Moorhead needs a strong Human Rights Commission

The Moorhead Human Rights Commission sputtered and ground to a quiet halt two years ago. Several problems contributed to the unfortunate decline. It became very difficult to recruit volunteers to serve on the commission, especially given a requirement to meet quotas for members representing protected classes. At the end, the commission was unable to achieve a quorum, and it skidded to an embarrassing hiatus.

Now the commission has been revived, with a few changes that should make this vital group sustainable. The size has been decreased from 11 members to seven, the requirement that some members must represent protected classes has been lifted, and the commission has more flexibility in the frequency of its meetings. All sensible changes, though it's important for protected classes to retain representation on the commission.

Last year, some members of the Moorhead City Council argued the Human Rights Commission should be dissolved, citing its moribund state, but wiser heads prevailed. Moorhead and the other cities in the metro area are becoming increasingly diverse in terms of race, ethnicity and gender identification, and the population is aging—all factors that will contribute to an increased need for a group dedicated to stamping out discrimination in all of its ugly forms.

The importance of that mission was on graphic display recently when tempers flared in a parking lot and a white woman threatened to kill three Muslim woman in an angry exchange of comments. Although the women later made amends, through the intercession of Fargo's police chief, the incident serves as a sobering reminder that our differences can divide us, unless we constantly work toward harmony.

The Moorhead Human Rights Commission can be an important voice in advocating against discrimination. It can play an important educational role. When it was active, its members worked closely with other institutions, including the Moorhead Police Department, to protect human rights. Even though the commission lacks investigators—complaints go to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights—it can be influential in setting the bar.

It's not an easy job. To succeed, the resurrected commission will need the active engagement of dedicated members—and strong support from the Moorhead City Council. The city once provided training for commission members, but that ended when funding ran out. City leaders should work to increase support for the commission, including maintaining staff support, so it can succeed.

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