[BELLINGHAM, WA, August 9, 2018] Consideration by Bellingham city officials of a new process to handle complaints from individuals about interactions with city employees and departments is being supported by the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force.

Members of the task force have met individually with Mayor Kelli Linville and several city council members over the past several months to urge establishment of an ombuds office and other steps to implement new complaint management procedures.

In comments at the July 23 city council meeting, task force members congratulated officials on their openness and candor in discussing the issues, and expressed support for a new “Creating a Safe Space for Complaints” report commissioned by Linville.

The report was prepared by the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center, and is online in the city council July 23 meeting packet on page 62. It has been referred to the council’s Justice Committee, chaired by April Barker, for further discussion.

Michael Berres, a member of the task force’s civil advocacy committee, noted at the July council meeting that the group has been proposing recommendations similar to those in the Safe Space report. In particular, he said, “establishment of an independent, empowered, transparent ombudsperson function is vital.”

Task force member Bob Johnston urged the council to not settle for the status quo.

“Having staff deal with complaints can be time-consuming and frustrating,” he said. “It can be complicated by conflict of interest, power differential, or lack of established procedure. Individuals bringing complaints may be reluctant to do so for fear of retaliation. An ombuds office would help address these obstacles.”

Among its conclusions, the Safe Space report notes that the safe space concept can be “part of a broader effort to further foster an inclusive, equitable approach to serving the needs of community members.”

“We envision Whatcom County as a diverse and compassionate community where every person enjoys equal justice and opportunity. These recent efforts to facilitate communication about issues can help attain that vision. We urge community members to review the report and share their own recommendations as changes are being considered,” said Damani Johnson, who serves as a co-chair of the WHRTF Board of Directors.

The Whatcom Human Rights Task Force promotes and protects the rights of the human family. WHRTF works to ensure the right to dignity and to live without fear of violence, intimidation, or discrimination based on group identification or personal characteristics. More information is at www.whrtf.org.