City Council showdown over Human Rights Commission

Council member who proposed measure asks it not to be considered as emergency

Published On: Feb 12 2013 12:47:00 PM EST   Updated On: Feb 12 2013 04:14:39 PM EST
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

The Human Rights Commission met just hours before Jacksonville City Council was set to discuss reducing the size of the panel -- which some felt was a back-door approach to getting rid of its Muslim chairman.

An emergency measure was pending at Tuesday night's council meeting on Councilman Matt Schellenberg's proposal to reduce the size of the commission from 20 to 11. But Schellenberg, at the afternoon meeting, asked that the issue not be moved as an emergency and let it go through the normal process.

The reduction would have effectively eliminated the position of commission Chairman Parvez Ahmed, who is awaiting council confirmation of a second three-year term.

The original nomination of Ahmed, a University of North Florida professor, sparked protests during council meetings three years ago due to his Muslim faith. If the commission were to shrink in size, Ahmed would be left out.

Ahmed wouldn't discuss the proposal on his way into Tuesday's meeting, but Charlene Taylor, former executive director of the Human Rights Commission, had questions about the plan.

"I don't know why it was introduced," Taylor told Channel 4's Jim Piggott. "There is lots of speculation why it's been introduced, and we are waiting to understand more of what is going on."

Schellenberg had said he proposed the reduction as an emergency so the council won't make any reappointments until the size of the commission is reduced. He said Ahmed's faith was not why he made this proposal.

"I think when you get more than 11, I don't think they function as well. And that is why we limit it," he said. "I saw that there were quite a few people coming up in the next couple of months on the Human Rights Commission, and I think it is time to pair it down and get a good core group of people in there to do the right thing."

City Councilman John Crescimbeni on Monday said it should not be considered as an emergency, but be part of a bigger conversation involving all boards and committees, including the council itself.

"I'm all about having the conversation about the Human Rights Commission and how many people should be sitting on that panel, but I think we need to include other boards and commissions and how big the City Council should be," Crescimbeni said. "I'm not in favor of trying to do that tomorrow night as an emergency on the floor."

Crescimbeni said of the 67 county commissions in Florida, 57 have just five members, a handful have seven members, Palm Beach County has nine members and Miami-Dade County has 14 members.

"Duval County, Jacksonville sticks out like a sore thumb. We have 19 members," Crescimbeni said. "If you talk to a lot of citizens, they would think that we're probably more ineffective or inefficient than the Human Rights Commission. It costs the taxpayers money to have City Council members. The Human Rights Commission members won't get paid, they're volunteers."

The proposal to reduce the size of the commission has been met with community opposition and a protest was planned for 4:30 p.m. outside City Hall in support of Ahmed and the full commission.

Channel 4 will have a complete report on the proposal and the Council's action Tuesday evening on The Local Station.