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Jacksonville Human Rights Commissioner Calls Equal Opportunity Ordinance ‘Good First Step’

Ryan Benk

A Jacksonville Human Rights Commissioner is calling the recently filed equal opportunity bill “a good first step,” but the legislation doesn't go nearly far enough to address diversity issues at city agencies.

The bill — filed by Councilman Garrett Dennis — is a response to anongoing federal investigation into possible racial discrimination at JEA.

Human Rights Commissioner Nathan Rousseau took some time between teaching sociology classes at Jacksonville University Thursday to grade Dennis’legislative work.

“This is a B paper and it is a B paper because in terms of substance it has a beginning, middle and end. It goes somewhere, but it lacks sufficient depth for it to be an A paper,” he said.

The bill does three main things: it mandates city agencies submit annual demographic reports to the mayor and city council, requires agency CEOs create similar reports evaluating their effectiveness in diversifying their workforces and urges the mayor to restore funding for the position of director for Equal Opportunity.

“I can't believe the position has gone without being funded for as long as it has. So, that was the thing that struck me the most,” Rousseau said. “Certainly it’s something that the mayor should support and fund.”

Moreover, Rousseau has questions about enforcing the new rules. He said he’d like to see penalties for agencies who don't meet the new reporting and evaluating standards set forth in the proposal.

“It’s one thing to report it;, it’s one thing that these agencies exist. It’s another thing for these agencies to be able to fulfill their mission,” he said.

But Councilman Dennis thinks enumerating punishment in the form of fines or censuring isn't necessary.

“I think the true penalty will be when they have to come before the council and share with the council ‘here are our demographics.’ Year after year, if they fail to have a diverse workforce, shame on them,” he said. “The penalty will be their embarrassment.”

Dennis said a better strategy would be to encourage agencies to expand their recruiting efforts.

“We just need to tweak what we’re doing. I’m not saying that we’re not doing a good job, but we need to tweak it,” he said. “We need to cast a broader net to diversify.”

Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.