PITTSFIELD -- Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi said he plans to appoint new members to the city's Human Rights Commission, which apparently has been dormant since the end of the 20th century.

Bianchi said he's seeking advice from the city solicitor's office on the proper procedures for selecting a slate of new appointees and having them confirmed.

According to the city's website, the most recent six members had terms that ended from 1996 to September 1999. Up to nine members could serve on the board.

As originally established, the commission had authority to investigate claims of discrimination, mediate disputes or refer parties to state or federal agencies. It also could issue reports and recommendations to the mayor following an investigation.

In an unresolved dispute, the commission may "hold hearings, subpoena witnesses, compel their attendance, administer oaths, take the testimony of any person under oath" -- and require the production of evidence to any matter under investigation by the commission.

Those powers could be exercised only with a majority vote of the commissioners.

As conceived, seven commission members would be appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council, one would be the school department's personnel officer and another the council president or a designee.

According to the ordinance that established the rights commission, the group is to "receive and investigate complaints of, and to initiate its own investigation of" discrimination in employment, housing, education, recreation or public accommodations.

The discrimination could be against a person or group and stem from either a public or private source, according to the ordinance. Discrimination could be based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, ancestry, marital status, handicap or sexual orientation.

The mayor said he is following a similar process he used in appointing members last fall to the Affirmative Action Advisory Committee, which also had been dormant for many years. The committee, with city and school department officials and representatives from community organizations and groups, has begun to meet and recently completed revisions and updates to the city's affirmative action policy and a 37-page plan.

Bianchi said the plan is receiving a final review by the solicitor's office, and he intends to submit it to the City Council for review.

The rights commission, which was established during 1990-92, was adopted around the time the affirmative action policy and plan were adopted. Both had been on file for many years but apparently not actively followed. Both initiatives were brought back, after members of the local NAACP chapter last year asked if the city had an affirmative action policy.

The chapter has pressed the city to step up efforts to recruit and hire more minority job applicants


citing low percentages among current city and school employees.

To reach Jim Therrien:

jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com,

or (413) 496-6247

On Twitter: @BE_therrien