FAIRMONT — Three founding members of the Fairmont Human Rights Commission are resigning with a stated desire to be replaced by persons of color, members of the LGBTQ community or individuals from other underrepresented or marginalized groups.
Chair Brett White and members Gia Deasy and Marianne Moran are voluntarily stepping down from their positions in order to encourage other community members to join the two-year-old commission. Each resigning member has one year remaining on their commission term.
The Human Rights Commission is currently comprised entirely of white individuals. The resignations are effective Nov. 6.
Candidates for commission seats are recommended by Fairmont City Manager Valerie Means and must be confirmed by city council vote. There are seven total seats on the commission.
“From the very beginning when we were appointed to the Human Rights Commission, it was certainly not missed that we were looking around the room at seven white individuals sitting around a table,” said White. “As things have progressed and as we have continued to do good work and put things in place for the commission, it became very clear to us that the community and ourselves wanted the commission to be more diverse.”
While the commission has admittedly received anonymous online complaints regarding its composition, no individual has directly expressed concerns in-person or at a meeting. Nevertheless, White said the commission decided to be proactive in creating open seats.
“The commission did this completely of our own accord. We asked three of our members to resign to allow the city manager and council to appoint new individuals, which will hopefully bring more diversity to the group. Three of us are voluntarily resigning. We all believe it’s an important thing to do,” White said.
While member Deasy will be voluntarily stepping down, she said she plans to remain actively engaged with the commission.
“The Human Rights Commission is very open to the audience. I feel that being in the audience and attending the meetings gives me the voice I wanted to have when I applied for the position,” Deasy said. “I don’t feel I’m giving up a voice. My work with children with disabilities brought me to the commission and I feel I can still make that contribution.”
Deasy, a candidate for the District 6 seat on Fairmont City Council, said if she is elected, her new position would preclude her from concurrently serving on the Human Rights Commission.
The resignations also serve to address the need to stagger members’ terms, an aspect that was overlooked when the commission was founded.
Because the original seven members were appointed at the same time, the three-year terms of all members were scheduled to conclude in 2021. The resignations and subsequent addition of new members will allow for staggered terms in an effort to avoid mass turnover and ensure commission continuity.
Moran said she is saddened to be leaving the commission, but is doing so because she wants to see members of underrepresented communities get a voice.
“I’m very sad to be leaving, but they wanted three (resignations) and I was willing to do that for the good of the whole. My only concern with doing this is that city council will not get enough diverse applicants. That’s always a possibility,” she said.
Moran said a lack of diversity in applicants when the commission was forming inevitably led to an all-white Human Right Commission. She hopes there is a more diverse applicant pool this time.
“Council can only consider those who apply. My fear is we may have resigned for nothing. That’s my fear. Because I really enjoyed being on the commission and I did not really want to step down,” Moran said.
Mayor Brad Merrifield, who will be one of the votes needed to confirm Human Rights Commission applicants, said he hopes to see more diverse applicants this time around.
“As far as diversity, I certainly hope we have people apply and fulfill that need. It obviously gives you a broader spectrum of understanding on issues,” Merrifield said. “The more diversity, the better, in my opinion.”
Merrifield said the Human Rights Commission would also be well-served if it were to include someone who understands marginalized groups.
“I would like to see someone apply who knows about things such as anti-bullying. I think it would enhance the value of the entire team if there were someone on it who had firsthand knowledge and understanding of this subject, someone who could advocate for people who find themselves in that situation,” Merrifield said.
Residents interested in applying for a seat on the Human Rights Commission should complete and submit an online application, according to Fairmont City Clerk Janet Keller.
“Once we get all the commission applications, the city manager will go through them and make her recommendations to council. Applicants have to be city of Fairmont residents,” said Keller.
The Human Rights Commission application form is now available on the city of Fairmont’s website at fairmontwv.gov.