Skeleton Key
Adam Zyglis

If you, a loved one, friend or coworker has been a victim of discrimination or harassment, the Human Relations Commission is here to help.

A hate crime violates our right to participate fully in business, civic and religious activities. Take a stand and together let's hold offenders accountable for these crimes against our community.

The two paragraphs above, copied from the City of Billings website, describe the purpose of the Billings Human Relations Commission, which is supposed to have nine members who volunteer to advise the city council on matters of discrimination and prevention in our community.

The commission held its first meeting of 2018 Thursday with one of nine seats vacant because the city council last month rejected Mayor Tom Hanel’s recommendation to appoint Ken Crouch, a former city councilman and retired Christian minister who has been active in promoting human rights.

The council approved Hanel’s 39 other appointments, but Councilman Ryan Sullivan moved to reject Crouch. With Angela Cimmino and Rich McFadden absent, a majority of the council voted against Crouch’s appointment. Councilman Brent Cromley moved to reconsider that vote, but his motion died because not one other member would second it.

Asked last week by The Gazette why he opposed Crouch’s appointment, Sullivan said: “I believe the Human Relations Commission needs some strong leadership … leaders that will pull in the direction the Human Relations Commission needs to go.”

And what is the right direction for the commission?

Sullivan replied that the commission had been “actively writing letters and investigating discrimination complaints.” Sullivan said the commission shouldn’t be doing those things because “that is not part of the city charter.”

“He’s a nice guy, I just don’t think he’s right for the job,” Sullivan said of Crouch.

Apparently, Sullivan doesn’t know that the Human Relations Commission’s job is receiving discrimination complaints and advising the council on how to respond. There are harassment and discrimination complaint forms online at the HRC webpage under city boards and commissions on the city’s website.

Crouch served Billings honorably on the council and has been active in community betterment. He is well qualified to be a member of the commission, which may be the most diverse city advisory board of all. Its eight members represent a wide age range, diverse religions and racial heritage. Five of the eight members are women.

Being shorthanded is a problem for the commission, its secretary, Amaya Garcia Costas, told the city council on Jan. 2. Last year, the commission had two members who had ongoing health problems that kept them from attending all monthly meetings. Other members had to travel for work and missed some meetings. Although the travelers call into the meetings, they don’t count toward the quorum of five unless physically present. The commission was unable to conduct an official meeting or take votes some months for lack of a quorum. The commission needs a full complement of nine members, she said.

Mayor Bill Cole can and should fill the vacancy. In the city that created Not In Our Town, this commission should have nine volunteers to thoughtfully consider issues of equality and discrimination within our city. The Billings City Charter says that the mayor appoints all commission members to four-year terms, subject to approval by the council. The appointments can be made after giving 30 days’ notice of a vacancy. Traditionally, the city has taken applications for all board and commission openings twice a year, but nothing in the charter requires Cole to wait till June. If Crouch is still willing to serve, we urge Cole to recommend his appointment.

We strongly recommend that city council members attend a Human Relations Commission meeting – or at least ask Cromley, who has attended commission meetings — to learn why human relations is an important part of living in our thriving, growing city.

The council’s rejection of Crouch in December was a disgraceful slap in the face to a good citizen. The 2018 council has the opportunity to set things right: Fill the vacancy with a well-qualified candidate, Ken Crouch.