Creating C-ville’s Human Rights Commission Crisis

By. Neil Williamson, President

Tonight, (2/6/12) Charlottesville City Council will be discussing the potential expansion of the “Dialog on Race” into a more carefully named Human Rights Commission.  This concept is a product of an action group out of the “Dialog” process.  Since late December, some have been working to create a crisis mentality regarding the issue.

Nothing in this post is designed to dispute that racism continues to exist in our community; rather it is to question the demonstrated need for a new $300,000 city department. 

Do the significant mechanisms that exist today not work?

Is there a crisis? 

If not why might some want a crisis to seem to exist?

In December’s City Council meeting, some indicated that ONLY a Human Rights Commission could solve the “structural issues of racism in our community”.  Interestingly late last month in announcing a lawsuit regarding gender discrimination the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) stated:

“The EEOC is uniquely positioned to challenge systemic hiring discrimination,” said P. David Lopez, General Counsel of the EEOC.  “Where necessary, we are prepared to use litigation to hold employers accountable for depriving qualified applicants of job opportunities, simply because of their sex.”

University of Virginia Professor Walter Heinecke is leading the charge for a Human Rights Commission.  He included EEOC statistics in his justification for the new board:

as of Oct. 14, there were 49 discrimination complaints made by citizens of Charlottesville in fiscal year 2011. Of those cases, 37 are still open. In 2010, there were 42 total charges, 36 of which are closed and six remain open.

The Free Enterprise Forum has been outspoken in its opposition to the creation of this duplicative agency.  In a previous post, we asked if we could be opposed to the commission and not seen as supporting racism. 

We have grave concerns that the commission, which was conceived without significant input from the business and property owner community it seeks to regulate, is designed with an assumption of guilt rather than a presumption of innocence.

As if to confirm these misgivings, the January 9th Daily Progress quoted, Jim Shea, of the Dialogue on Race Relations:

“If there weren’t opposition to this proposal, that would prove that it’s meaningless. The fact that there is opposition, it shows that it isn’t meaningless, that people are scared that they might get caught doing something they aren’t supposed to be doing,”

So if there is opposition, someone must be doing something that is improper?  We respectfully disagree.

In a memo to City Council, City Manager Maurice Jones is recommending a middle approach, working with a commission without investigative powers for a year and then determining if the need exists for additional Council action.  While the Free Enterprise Forum appreciates the effort to find an agreeable alternative, we continue to believe adequate implementation of existing regulations and enforcement mechanisms will better fight discrimination in our community than a new commission.

The middle road is not a path the proponents of the commission seem ready to embrace.  Their goal is to create false urgency to their proposal and bully City Council into a corner where a vote against their vision is a vote for discrimination.

In yesterday’s Daily Progress, there was further evidence of the creation of a crisis mentality that requires immediate action:

“Waiting another year is a common political stall tactic by the city,” said M. Rick Turner, president of the Albemarle-Charlottesville NAACP, which is backing the commission. “… They’re hoping that people will either forget or they’ll become less interested.”

This attempt to create a crisis mentality is not accidental, it is a proven advocacy technique.  Stanford Professor Tom Sowell wrote about crises creation in his  his 1995 book, The Vision of the Anointed:

Stage One: The “Crisis.” Some situation exists, whose negative aspects the anointed propose to eliminate. Such a situation is routinely characterized as a “crisis,” even though evidence is seldom asked or given to show how the situation at hand is either uniquely bad or threatening to get worse.

Stage Two: The “Solution.” Policies to end the “crisis” are advocated by the anointed, who say that these policies will lead to beneficial result A. Critics say that these policies will lead to detrimental result Z. The anointed dismiss these critical claims as absurd and “simplistic,” if not outright dishonest.

Stage Three: The Results. The policies are instituted and lead to detrimental result Z.

Stage Four: The Response. Those who attribute detrimental result Z to the policies instituted are dismissed as “simplistic” for ignoring the “complexities” involved, as “many factors” went into determining the outcome. No burden of proof whatever is put on those who had so confidently predicted improvement. Indeed, it is often asserted that things would have been even worse were it not for the wonderful programs that mitigated the inevitable damage from other factors.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the implementation plan for the Charlottesville Human Rights Commission is Stage Two of Sewell’s vision.  We fear economic hardship, for businesses and in turn residents will be Stage Three and then you will hear calls from the community bemoaning the loss of jobs and commercial tax revenue as businesses flee the overregulation and high taxes of the city.

It does not have to be this way.

Charlottesville City Council should not be bullied into this new expansion of government power.  Instead, they should look at the problem, and the considerable resources available to combat it and determine if (and why) the existing solutions do not meet the needs of those impacted. 

Importantly enterprises, big and small, should be a part of this discussion; for only with the consent of the governed will such regulations ever work.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.  For more information visit the website


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