Anoka City Council votes to end Human Rights Commission

Tim Harlow, Star Tribune
·2 min read

The Anoka City Council this week voted to dissolve its Human Rights Commission (HRC) saying the organization would be better served operating as an independent nonprofit rather than an advisory group under the auspices of the city.

While Monday's 3-2 vote to end the commission delivered a death blow, it did not totally kill off the group. The council will still need to vote to remove the HRC from the city code to completely sever ties.

"It's not a done deal," said Margaret Anderson, a member of the HRC who is still hopeful it can remain part of city government.

The commission appeared to be safe in August when the council backed away from shutting it down due to inactivity and voted 4-1 in favor of keeping it. But Monday's vote meant the HRC no longer operates within the city and now is on its own. The fate of the commission, Anderson said, "is very unclear."

City Council Member Elizabeth Barnett was clear in her reasons for putting forth the resolution and voting to get rid of the HRC.

She said the commission has struggled to operate within the government's structure, and has a list of goals that promote "highly politically charged and controversial" topics such as free college education, climate change, free healthcare and the possibility of Anoka becoming a sanctuary city. That makes it more of a special interest group that should operate independent of the city, she said.

"I am fearful that the Human Rights Commission will serve only to further divide the community," Barnett said at Monday's meeting. "Boards and commissions serve at the pleasure of council and are there to advise us. This is clearly not a priority for the HRC."

Anderson acknowledged that some topics Barnett mentioned did appear on a list, but they were only suggestions put forth by community members for the HRC to tackle.

"We have no agenda," Anderson said, noting the list was presented to the council to get direction on how to proceed. "It was interpreted as the ideas we are promoting. We have not had an opportunity to promote anything."

Council members Brian Wesp and Jeff Weaver also voted in favor of disbanding the HRC while council member Erik Skogquist and Mayor Phil Rice dissented.

Rice said he had hoped for more discussion before voting.

Skogquist pledged his support for the group.

"I have never seen an advisory board jerked around as much as this group has been," he said. "It's frustrating to see as a council that we can't make a decision and stick by it."

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768