PITTSFIELD -- Less than a month after reviving the city Human Rights Commission by appointing its first new members in more than a decade, Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi is the object of a wide-ranging discrimination complaint.
Doreen Wade of Medford, a native of Pittsfield who said she sought city assistance last year to establish a business here, registered the commission's first complaint Monday at the organizational meeting. She spoke for more than 30 minutes, detailing what she said was discrimination concerning city funding to assist businesses and concerning city jobs she applied for.
Wade also accused Bianchi of making racially insensitive comments and at one point of intimidating her by speaking loudly and shaking his finger in her face during a meeting at City Hall.
Commissioner Susan O'Leary asked whether Wade thought the alleged treatment of her "was inefficiency or discrimination."
"Discrimination," Wade responded, later adding, "I'm just going to say it out and out: The city leadership is racist; it needs to be investigated."
Reached after the meeting, Bianchi denied Wade was discriminated against. "That is so far from the truth, it almost doesn't deserve a comment," he said.
He added that until he has more information about her statements, he wouldn't comment further. "I am sure the Human Rights Commission will listen to her and make a determination," Bianchi said.
Commissioners asked Wade to produce emails, documents and other written information she referred to in her statement so that they could review the material prior to the next commission meeting on June 9.
They also said it is crucial that City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan attend the next meeting to provide guidance on the commission procedures as outlined in a city ordinance adopted during the early 1990s.
"We will table this to revisit in June," said commission Chairman Josh Cutler, also a School Committee member and a school department appointee to the board.
City Councilor at large Churchill Cotton, who was appointed by council President Melissa Mazzeo, said, "These are really pretty serious charges. I am not sure how we should proceed."
"That's why we need Ms. Degnan here next time," Cutler said, a statement echoed by commissioner Pamela Malumphy and others.
Before hearing from Wade, members had said they need legal guidance because of the powers granted the rights commission under the enabling ordinance. Those include being able to subpoena testimony and documents during an investigation and require people to testify under oath.
The commission members nominated by Blanchi are Cecelia Rock, Louis Perez, the Rev. Alfred Johnson, O'Leary, Dr. Len Kates, Robert Sykes and Malumphy.
Wade said she was making her complaint as an individual, not on behalf of the NAACP or another organization.
Before speaking, she asked if commissioners could fairly consider such a complaint since Bianchi is the mayor.
"I have no problem acting independently," Cotton said.
Malumphy said the commission is set up to act as an independent group and has the option of referring issues to state or federal agencies, such as the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination or the Attorney General's Office.
As established, the commission has 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 a dispute that can't be resolved, the commission may "hold hearings, subpoena witnesses, compel their attendance, administer oaths, take the testimony of any person under oath" -- and also require the production of evidence to any matter under investigation by the commission.
Those powers can be exercised only with a majority vote of the commissioners.
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.
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