An Awkward Meeting

If you had attended the most recent meeting of the Terre Haute Human Relations Commission you might have expected a rather uneventful hour, but you would have been wrong. It was an hour filled with misrepresentations, awkward moments of confrontation, and bold faced lies. Rumors had been spreading that our city’s legal department sent out a memo asking for several boards and commissions to report the addresses and party affiliations of their members (image posted below). It turns out this was done because the Mayor’s office had appointed several individuals to boards and commissions who did not meet the residency and political affiliation requirements of those groups. And that became a matter of contention between two of the Human Relations Commissioners.

You might have also heard that our Human Relations Commission (HRC) director, Jordan Lough, publicly resigned at a City Council Meeting, expressing concerns with the qualifications of commissioners and with the way questions about the functioning of the commission had been handled. Everything in the meeting started off normally, Linda Lambert, an HRC commissioner seemed to be running things. She explained that she had been on the commission for seven years, and had even served as the groups interim director when previous directors Jeff Lorick and Melissa Reed had resigned. It did seem strange, however, that three of the six commissioners were brand new and this was the first ever meeting that two of them had attended.

It also seemed strange when Linda kept repeating that things had to be done a certain way because the Mayor and the city’s attorney said they needed to be done. This was the reasoning Linda gave when she tried to initiate nominations for a new slate of officers, but several of the members quickly responded that the commission should wait until all the commissioners were present. After the decision was made to wait on new officers Linda immediately transitioned to a very awkward moment where she suggested that someone on the commission should make a nomination for her to be the interim director in case one was “needed in the future.” She went on to explain that the city had shut off the phones and computers to the office, and without a director no one would be able to respond to complaints, and if that happened the office would probably close.

Mike Reed, the longest serving member of the commission, raised a concern about commissioner term limits. He referenced the commission’s ordinance which states that commissioners are not to serve more than two consecutive terms, and he raised an objection based on the fact that Linda had served more than two consecutive terms. He mentioned that her election to interim director would allow her to serve even longer, which was not in keeping with the “spirit of the ordinance.” Earlier in the meeting Linda had tried to explain that the reason she was serving longer than two consecutive terms was because several of her previous terms had been “interrupted” by periods of her serving as the commission’s interim director. She assured the rest of the commission that, “all of this has been approved by the city attorney.”

Linda Lambert, new interim director of the Terre Haute Human Relations Commission

Then Mike brought up the fact that he believed part of the concerns raised at the City Council meeting, where Jordan resigned, were that commissioners were not adhering to the standards set forth in the commission’s ordinance. Linda sternly replied that there was no “hoorah” at the council meeting, and the recent resignations and new appointments weren’t “a fly by night kind of thing,” and that she was just telling them “what city legal said.” However, halting normal operations of local boards, desperately trying to acquire home addresses and political affiliations of appointees, disabling the city’s board appointment website for days, forcing unqualified members to resign, and appointing large numbers of brand new individuals, is precisely the definition of a “fly by night” kind of thing.

New member Jeff Trotter then asked why city attorney Eddie Felling wasn’t present to answer some of the difficult questions related to the legality of the commission’s decisions, and Linda replied that Eddie wasn’t required to attend, and that the board used to have an attorney but he was dismissed because a previous director had concerns about “getting billed for services not rendered.” Concerns were then raised about the commission’s budget to which Linda replied that she “couldn’t find her copy of the budget.” Then the board reluctantly voted Linda in as interim director after she promised she would not serve another term as commissioner.

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