At a public meeting a couple of months ago on our city’s most urgent traffic issue, the reconfiguration of Chambers Road, Stephen Robin expressed an interest in serving on the traffic commission. When I heard that he was an architect, I suggested that he ought to serve on the architectural review board instead. Because of the paucity of architects in our community, that would be a better use of his qualifications. When he inquired about this, Mayor Jones told him that she had somebody else to fill that vacancy. That appointment has not been made, and the seat remains unfilled.
We were, however, delighted to hear that Robin was available to serve on the traffic commission. An immigrant from London, he has extensive experience with traffic control techniques that are just now becoming popular here. And he has seen our traffic problem up close and personal: On June 19, 2019, a Volkswagen SUV left the roadway on Hereford, plunged down the embankment on the south side of the roadway, and crashed through the side of Robin’s house. Had he been sitting at his dining room table instead of on the sofa, he may well have been killed.
It would be hard to imagine a more qualified candidate for traffic commission than Robin. But Mayor Jones opposed that appointment as well. Her first stab at him was to bring up the irrelevant fact that he is not a citizen.
The ordinances regarding service on city boards and commissions are perfectly clear: You are required to be a resident of the city, with all taxes paid. There is no requirement that you be a citizen. I immediately responded to Mayor Jones with the appropriate citations, and asked her what the basis was for her comment.
Mayor Jones never responded. But on Tuesday, four members of council voted against appointing Robin to the traffic commission: mayor Jones, and councilors Nelson, Noah, and Burrow. None offered an explanation for their rejection, so we sent a request to all members of council for an explanation.
A full day has passed, and we have received no explanation from anyone. The seat remains unfilled, and one of our most knowledgeable and interesting residents remains on the sideline. At a time when the city has difficulty finding qualified candidates to serve, this is a particularly odious offense.
Because this is not employment, the protections of federal law do not apply. But it is interesting to note that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission prohibits “treating people (applicants or employees) unfavorably because they are from a particular country or part of the world, because of ethnicity or accent, or because they appear to be of a certain ethnic background.” Since there is no provision in ordinance barring immigrants from serving on boards and commissions, the raising of that issue by Mayor Jones certainly has the appearance of national origin discrimination.
This is now the second time that Jones and her allies have erected barriers to those who would serve on boards and commissions, preventing qualified candidates from being appointed for reasons absent from ordinance. They also expressed a desire to delay consideration of councilor Palmer’s bill, which would allow residents to serve on two boards rather than being restricted to one. One would think that council, which has struggled to get its job done, would welcome the assistance of qualified residents who volunteer to serve in these advisory roles. The four who voted against this appointment owe their constituents an explanation.