Committee review of Howard's Office of Human Rights recommends improvements

Jess Nocera
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

While a review committee found the Howard County Office of Human Rights to be effective in its investigations, compliance and resolutions, the group found there is still room for improvement, according to a report released Monday.

Composed of community leaders and experts, the Office of Human Rights Review Committee found the office needs organizational restructuring, internal and external training, development initiatives, and a stronger and more supported outreach and education program.

The committee was established in February after Howard County Executive Calvin Ball signed an executive order.

Ball said in statement the “committee’s report serves as a helpful roadmap.”

“Addressing hate and protecting the rights of all are duties I take very seriously,” he said. “We still have work to do in order to create a community that is safe for everyone and one where everyone feels safe.”

Howard’s Office of Human Rights is tasked with investigating complaints, attempting to eliminate violations, and the overall administration and enforcement of the provisions of the county’s human rights law.

Under Howard’s law, it is illegal to discriminate based on someone’s race, color, creed, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, familial status, occupation, source of income and political opinion.

In 2018, the office reported 58 hate-bias incidents, 61 cases of employment discrimination, 16 housing discrimination reports and one report of public accommodation discrimination, according to the committee's report.

Those cases included at least 32 complaints on race, 22 based on disability, 16 cases based on gender and nine complaints on sexual orientation.

In 2017, the office negotiated $170,251 in case settlements, received 94 discrimination complaints — a majority of which involved allegations of employment and housing discrimination — issued 51 findings and mediated 11 cases, according to a February news release.

Over the course of five weeks beginning in February this year, the review committee interviewed staff from the Office of Human Rights and members of the Human Rights Commission, as well as held two public hearings.

Some of the committee’s recommendations include creating a full-time position to support the office’s community outreach and engagement efforts, fill immediate vacancies on the Human Rights Commission and create advisory groups, according to the report.

The office should also look into developing a stronger presence to be a resource for students in the county school system, as well as having a robust social media presence, according to the report’s recommendations.

It was also recommended the office create a robust training program for new and existing staff “to help them better understand their role, obligations and opportunities to affect change.”

In addition, the committee recommended for the county to fill the vacant administrator position of the office.

The new administrator should have a vision that aligns with the values and aspirations of the community, be well versed in civil investigation and conflict resolution, and have strong planning and analytical skills, according to the report.

Janssen Evelyn, the acting human rights administrator, said in a statement he “wholeheartedly” agrees with the committee's recommendations to have a permanent leader in the office.

Evelyn was appointed acting administrator in February by Ball. He replaced the Rev. Barbara Sands, pastor of the West Liberty United Methodist Church in Marriottsville. Sands was appointed to the position in 2015 by then-County Executive Allan Kittleman.

The job is a regular political appointed position by the county executive, according to a county spokesman.

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