Council picks NAACP activist for human-relations seat

Aug. 05, 2014 @ 03:30 PM

Votes from two City Council members who were weighing in on the matter for the first time supplied the margin necessary for a Durham NAACP activist to gain a seat on the city’s Human Relations Commission.
Lawyer Diane Standaert received the council’s nod this week on a 4-3 vote, which in the process denied a second term on the advisory board to Americans for Prosperity Field Director Misty Odell.
The decision reversed a 3-2 preliminary vote in Odell’s favor held last month in the absence of Councilwoman Cora Cole-McFadden and Councilman Don Moffitt. Because Odell didn’t get an outright majority the first time around, a second ballot was necessary, and Cole-McFadden and Moffitt wound up siding with Standaert.
Moffitt, the council’s liaison to the Human Relations Commission, said Standaert is uniquely well-qualified for the position. She is an attorney for the Self-Help credit union and is also the legal redress chair of the local NAACP chapter.
“She brings experience and connections that are almost unobtainable from anywhere else or anyone else,” Moffitt said.
But Moffitt said he also favored appointing Standaert because “it’s important to have people on our commissioners and boards who reflect the larger community,” and she “will represent the full Durham community a little closer to the way the community is composed.”
Moffitt’s comment alluded directly to political views as both candidates are white women and were competing for a seat on the Human Relations Commission reserved for a “non-minority female.” City law dating back to the civil rights era allocates the seats by race and also requires a near-even gender balance.
The Human Relations Commission was a relatively low-profile group for many years, until last fall, when Mayor Bill Bell asked it investigate complaints from the NAACP and other groups about alleged racial profiling by the Durham Police Department.
Odell was one of three panel members to dissent from its eventual report to the council, which said there is racial bias and profiling in the department’s practices.
The report among other things recommended strengthening civilian oversight of officer discipline and the rules for how police handle by-permission “consent” searches of people they don’t have probable cause to suspect of a crime.
Odell’s job with Americans for Prosperity also wasn’t calculated to win support from council members, who are all Democrats.
The conservative group generally opposes the policies of President Obama and other Democrats. At the state level this year, it successfully pushed the Republican-majority N.C. General Assembly to take away from cities the authority to levy a “privilege license” tax on businesses.
The repeal will cost cities across the state about $62 million a year starting in fiscal 2015-16, assuming legislators don’t follow up next spring on Gov. Pat McCrory’s request that they do something to make good on the prospective shortfall.
Durham’s city government is in line to lose about $3 million a year from the repeal of its business-taxing authority.
Durham County’s electorate gave Obama nearly 76 percent of the vote in both the 2008 and 2012 elections. In 2012, it also preferred McCrory’s Democratic opponent, former Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, giving him 71 percent of the vote.
Odell still received support Monday from Bell and Councilmen Eugene Brown and Eddie Davis. The mayor and Davis both noted that the council usually gives advisory board members a second term when they have good meeting-attendance records.
“If a person is eligible to serve a second term, the person has attended the meetings [and] there’s nothing outstanding against that individual, I tend to vote to reappoint that person,” Bell said. “I don’t even know the lady I voted for, honestly. I saw that she attended.”
Davis put out an email on Monday saying he favored Odell’s reappointment because she’d been “a dutiful member” of the Human Relations Commission, and because he respects the free-speech rights of commission members “who have been in the numerical minority” on some of its issues.
Davis added, however, that he “strongly disagree[s] with the political views and exclusionary tactics of her employer.”
The reappointment-on-good-attendance practice aside, the council has on occasion denied second terms to advisory board members who seemed significantly out of step with it on major policy questions.
The most prominent example before Monday was the 2012 sacking from the Homeless Services Advisory Committee of a member who opposed a joint city/county decision to have the city’s Community Development Department administer a key grant program.
Moffitt noted that he joined the Durham Planning Commission in 2004 in a similar manner, convincing a majority of the council he’d be a better choice than an incumbent who wanted a second term.
“I wasn’t pro-development, I wasn’t anti-development,” he said, recalling that debate. “I had a more centrist view.”