BRUNSWICK — The Town Council accepted a report from the Human Rights Task Force Monday, and authorized the panel to continue working on its mission through the end of the year.
The 7-1 vote approved eight recommendations and initiatives that the task force will undertake in the upcoming months, many of which build on or complete work the group has already begun.
The council also adopted an increase in Mere Point Wastewater District fees, as well as a Complete Streets policy developed by the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee.
The Human Rights Task Force was established last December in response to an increase of racial and gender-specific slurs downtown and near Bowdoin College. Soon after its inception, the task force expanded the scope of its inquiry to include all classes protected under the Maine Human Rights Act.
The task force, composed of Council Chairwoman Sarah Brayman, and Councilors Kathy Wilson and Jane Millet, conducted a series of round-table meetings over the past half-year with leading members of the community. Brayman called attention to regular attendees who included Chief of Police Richard Rizzo; Bowdoin Dean of Multicultural Life Leana Amaez; Assistant Superintendent of Schools Pender Makin; Maine State Music Theater Artistic Director Curt Dale Clark, and Brunswick Downtown Association Director Deborah King.
Brayman called the conversations “open and informative,” and an opportunity to sit down and listen to the community. Most notably, the conversations have resulted in the Police Department’s implementation of an online bias report page, which has had two submissions to date.
According to the report, “the Task Force was not presented with evidence of widespread bias. The incidents reviewed by the Task Force appeared to be isolated, individual acts.”
The task force’s inquiry was originally supposed to take six months. But Brayman said the group believes the town will benefit from the continuation of the conversations they’ve started, especially because it has since widened its scope.
Beyond granting the task force more time, the council also accepted a list of recommendations to encourage community organizations to participate in the dialogue. The recommendations include workshops and web pages devoted to the issue, as well as promoting lines of communication between the town, Bowdoin College, and the Police Department to identify and deal with incidents of bias.
Wilson, who was initially hesitant to join the task force because she said she “didn’t think it was the town’s job” to look into these kinds of issues, said she is now satisfied with how much the task force has accomplished.
“We met people from different parts of the community that we don’t usually talk to,” Wilson said Monday. “I think the relationships (the task force) is building with organizations in the town will be worth” the effort.
Following a public hearing on the fee increase during the Aug. 1 meeting, the council unanimously voted to increase by nearly 60 percent the user fees that maintain the subsurface septic system in the Mere Point district.
This is the first fee increase since the town installed the system in 1995.
“Fast-forward 20 years; we reached the point where it’s time to raise the user fees,” Town Manager John Eldrige said, noting the the entire system is supported by user fees.
He said users of the system understand the dramatic increase is a “necessary evil” given that more than 20 years have elapsed without the town adjusting the fees to reflect the rising cost of maintaining the system.
Going forward, the town will evaluate the fees on an annual basis.