WORCESTER – City Councilor At-Large Thu Nguyen questioned City Manager Eric Batista on Tuesday night related to changes he ordered the Human Rights Commission to make in its focus.
As This Week in Worcester previously reported, Batista has denied three requests from the Human Rights Commission for records related to police misconduct, hate crimes, and payments made to settle allegations of civil rights violations. Batista wants the commission to focus on work related to the restructure of the City’s Executive Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
The Human Rights Commission is the only venue in city government, outside the police department, with the independence and subpoena power to require testimony in cases police misconduct which violates civil rights. City Council does not have this power. The Commission’s findings are advisory and the City Manager and Police Department have no obligation to take any actions in response to their findings.
See the exchange between Nguyen and Batista, below:
In response to Nguyen, Batista said, “What I did is submit a memo asking them to shift their focus right now, help us achieve some [goals in] areas that we need some help in, and then we can get back to the areas that they’ve been working on over the past few months.”
Batista’s memorandum to the commission on Nov. 6 takes a much less conciliatory approach. It says, “One of my duties as City Manager as guided by Article 15, Section 10 of the City’s
Revised Ordinance of 2015 (“the Ordinance”) is to communicate a focused vision for the Human Rights Commission going forward.”
A footnote adds, in part, the following:
“Article 15 Section 10(d) of the Ordinance clearly lays out the Commission’s duties and responsibilities, and it provides legal authority for the Commission to execute the same. Ultimately, the Human Rights Commission, as is true for all City Departments and Commissions described in Articles 2 through 18 of the Ordinance, was established and operates “under the jurisdiction of the city manager.” Article 15, Section 10(a). The City Manager retains authority over the special employment of each Commissioner, whom they appoint for three-year terms. Article 15, Section 10(b).”
(Editor’s Note: Emphasis added).
Two Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts decisions in the 1970 reaffirmed the powers delegated to the Human Rights Commission. In Bloom v. City of Worcester (1973), the court affirmed the validity of the city ordinance that established the commission. In Human Rights Commission of Worcester v. Assad, the court affirmed “the commission is thus entitled to the enforcement of its subpoenas .”
The city’s Ordinances of 2015, Article 15 §10 (d) allocate the Human Rights Commission’s duties and responsibilities. The commission is empowered (1) to conduct investigation and “to receive and investigate complaints of and to initiate its own complaints and/or investigations of” “(c) the violation of the enjoyment and exercise by any person of his or her civil rights. Subsection (f), which defines the commissions relations with city agencies, says “the commission shall receive the cooperation and assistance of all city departments and agencies.”
Nguyen raised a motion to request the city manager attend the next Human Rights Commission meeting in December. The motion passed by a unanimous vote of all city councilors.
Although the City Council hires the City Manager, it can not order him to appear. If their request is ignored, its only recourse is to terminate the employment of the city manager.