HISTORY OF THE MONMOUTH COUNTY HUMAN RELATIONS COMMISSION

David Cohen

On February 13, 1990, a meeting was held at the then Sheridan Gardens (now Freehold Gardens). It was called jointly by the Monmouth County Prosecutor John Kaye and Jack Morrero of National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ.) They invited about 45 "community leaders." Prosecutor Kaye conducted the meeting and explained the problems in Monmouth County with acts of bias and bigotry. After some discussion, he asked if we were willing to try to do something to prevent them. Twelve people volunteered to try.

The twelve held a meeting one week later and elected their first Chairman, Dave Cohen, and Vice Chairman, Tanis Dietch. Meeting were held every week to define our mission, how we would function and policies we would follow.

We agreed to be inclusive and to be both re-active and proactive. We wanted to have representatives on the Commission from education, law enforcement, clergy, government, major employees, and of each minority organization in the county. Major problems we faced were lack of resources and finances. Freeholder Ted Narozanick suggested we become an agency of the county to solve those problems. We thought that was a good idea, but were concerned if the Freeholders appoint members, it would become political. We agreed to petition the Freeholders for recognition with the caveat that all future members would be appointed by the Commission, not the Freeholders.

On April 5, 1990, I made a presentation to the Freeholders concerning the formation and membership of a Human Relations Commission. I explained there are organizations in the county that are concerned with particular aspects of bigotry like the NAACP and UCAM who deal with racism in their own groups or ADL for anti-Semitism, but there is no group who will take these threads and weave them into a fabric for the entire community.

The Freeholders liked the proposal and, one week later, on April 12, adopted the resolution creating the Monmouth County Human Relations Commission, the first county organization of this kind in the entire state, and appointed the original 12 volunteers as the charter members. A copy of the resolution is attached1. At this writing, eight of the twelve are still active members.

Freeholder Narozanick arranged for us to meet at the county Election Board offices on Halls Mills Road. When that building was remodeled and the meeting room was unavailable, Mr. Narozanick arranged for us to meet at the Human Services Building on Kozloski Road. We continue to meet there to this date.

From that point on we became very active, writing a mission statement, policy statement, and the mechanism for including members from all the organizations in the county. (A copy of the original statement is attached1.) This was done by asking organizations in the county to appoint one of their members to represent them on the Commission. It was done this way so the member became a "conduit" who could bring to the Commission the problems of bigotry, bias or hatred their community was experiencing and also bring back to their organization the plans and programs the Commission offered to combat those problems. Freeholder Narozanick agreed to write the letters on his Freeholder letterhead, so it took on an "official" county appearance. The response requested was a letter accepting membership and naming their representative. Organizations who wanted to be a part of the Commission could write to request that they have a representative on the Commission The request was turned over to the Membership Committee who would determine if the organization fit the characteristics we envisioned.

Several questions were raised about the procedures of membership so it was decided to develop rules of operation for the Commission. Therefore, a By-Laws Committee was appointed and was chaired by David Parriot.

During the several months the By-Laws Committee worked on a document to present to the full Commission it was clear that other operating committees were required in order to fulfill our mission Eventually ten operating committees were appointed, each given an individual mission statement A copy of each mission statement is attached1.

In mid 1990 Tanis Dietch resigned from the Commission because she had enrolled in law school. Tom Daniels was elected to replace her as Vice-Chair. It should be noted that Tom and I had hit it off very well and much of the effect and growth of the Commission can be attributed to the team effort that developed.

One of the problems we had to solve was how to let the community know we exist and that we are there to help. It was decided to take "a show on the road." We divided the county into six regions and picked a central location within each region to hold the meeting so we could get as large an audience as possible. We not only told them what we planned, but we asked them what they wanted us to do. A copy of the county regions is attached1.

In only a few months the ten operating committees were appointed and became active.

COMMITTEE

FIRST CHAIR REPRESENTATIVE
Education Valeria Lawson Teachers
Bias Report (Hot Line)* Gloria Brewer Monmouth University
Resource Development Linda Zuccaro Presbyterians
Speakers Carolyn Schwebel Middletown Human Rights
Employment Javier Funes JCP&L
Housing Rosa Lee Hispanic Society of M. C.
Clergy Father Cioffi Trenton Diocese
Publicity Phyllis Kessel Volunteer - Resource
Police/Comm. Relations Cohen/Furey NCCJ/Police Chiefs
Emergency Response Tom Daniels MBAS

*A telephone hot line system was set up in the Human Services Building in Lou Papparozzi's office and manned by Susan Brodsky, who was specially trained to take the calls. A Report Form was developed to facilitate the procedure.

In September of 1990 Governor Florio's office called me at home. He had learned from the NCCJ of this "experiment" in Monmouth County and wanted to know more about it. After several calls to clear up details, he agreed to come to our regular meeting in October 1990 to observe what we do and how we do it. He brought Attorney General Bob DelTufo with him. He was impressed enough with what he heard and saw that he told the A.G. that he wanted "one of these" in every county.

The publicity generated by the Governor's visit made it easier for the Commission to get broad community support it needed. By mid 1991, the Commission had grown to 60 members plus 10 support groups, as  follows:

Number of Members
I - Education Committees - 10
    A - Students 2
    B - Teachers 2
    C - Principals 3
    D - Superintendents 1
    E - Monmouth County Colleges 2
II - Religious Committees 10
    A - Ministerial Alliance 1
    B - Seacoast Baptist Alliance 1
    C - Rabbis 1
    D - Muslims 1
    E - Catholic Diocese 1
    F -  Presbyterians 1
    G - Unitarians 1
    H - Hindus 2
    I ó Lutheran 1
III ó Employers 7
    A - Fort Monmouth 1
    B - Earle NAD 1
    C - JCP&L 1
    D - NJ Natural Gas 1
    E - NJ Bell 1
    F - Prupac 1
   G - AT&T Bell Laboratories 1
IV - Minority Organizations (27 Commissioners from 23 Organizations)
    A-NAACP 5
    B - Chinese/Americans 1
    C - Indian Americans 1
    D - Jewish Federation 1
    E - Korean Americans 1
    F - Haitian Americans 1
    G - Filipinos 1
    H - Hispanics 1
    I - Mon. Co. Women's Advisory Council 1
    J - Abused Women 1
    K - Juveniles 1
    L - Office of Aging 1
    M - Office of Disabled 1
    N - Gay 1
    0 - Lesbian 1
    P - ADL 1
    Q - Vietnam Americans 1
    R - Mongolian Americans 1
    S - Rodino 1
    T - Jamaican Americans 1
    U - Portuguese Americans 1
    V - Italian Americans 1
    W - Irish Americans 1
V - Government 6
    A - Freeholders 1
    B - County Human Services 1
    C - Chiefs of Police 1
    D - Municipal Government 2
    E - State Civil Rights Commission 1
VI - Support Groups 10
    A - NCCJ 1
    B - Prosecutor 1
    C - Mon. Co.  Police Academy 1
    D - Communications 1
    E - D.A.G. 1
    F - V.V.A. 1
    G -  J.V.W. 1
    H - Navy League 1
    I  - Monmouth Co. Board of Realtors 1
    J -  U. S.  Department of Justice 1

We asked the representative of each minority group to make a presentation to the Commission describing the problems of bigotry and bias they were experiencing. Each presentation was also presented in writing and then they were all compiled into a booklet. A copy is attached1.

The Commission felt that the Commissioners themselves needed sensitivity training and in the Spring of 1991 Monmouth University arranged to host a session led by Janet Osak, a specialist from Middlesex County. A second session was hosted by Brookdale Community College and led by Joan Olsson of "The Cultural Bridge Organization" of New York. Both were secured by the NCCJ.

The Resource Development Committee had compiled a Resource Directory to be used in the schools. It was made into a booklet and distributed to every school in Monmouth County public, private and parochial. A copy is attached1.

In the meantime, other counties in the state were forming their own Human Relations Commissions and were asking for guidance f rom the Monmouth County Human Relations Commission. We worked with at least 12 counties, most even adopted our by-laws -- only the name was changed. We understand that all 21 counties now have Human Relations Commissions to perform that function.

We suggested to the Attorney General that an umbrella organization be formed at the state level composed of representatives from each county Human Relations Commission so we could dialogue and learn from each other. There is now the Civil Rights Commission in the Attorney Generalís office.

It was suggested that the public would be better served and individuals would feel more comfortable discussing their bias problems with their friends and acquaintances rather than going up to a county or state agency. We felt our efforts to reduce bigotry and bias would be more effective at the local municipal level. Therefore, Freeholder Narozanick wrote to every municipal government suggesting they form their own Human Relations Commission. He gave my name as reference. I received several calls asking about procedures to form a Human Relations Commission, cost involved, liabilities incurred, etc. I put these questions to Assist Prosecutor Robert Honecker who did a very thorough study and wrote the results to me. He indicated there would be. no legal downside to the municipality nor to individual members He also included samples of resolutions and ordinances adopted by towns in other counties to create their own Human Relations Commission. All the information was compiled and put in booklet form to distribute to all municipalities. A copy is attached1. At this writing, we understand 23 towns in Monmouth County have local Human Relations Commissions, but we do not know how active they are.

In early 1990ís, group of fraternity and sorority members from colleges throughout the Northeast regions of the country started holding unorganized and unsponsored get-togethers on the second Saturday in July in Philadelphia and then they came to Belmar the following day to spend the day at the beach and board walk. It was named the "Greekfest." Because of the crowd, upwards of 50,000Ī, was predominately African/American college students, the Belmar police felt overwhelmed and hired many outside police officers to assist in traffic and crowd control. Because the Belmar residents didnít welcome the students, street parking was severely regulated and restricted. These Belmar initiatives caused negative responses, led to arguments between the police and students, and even to acts of violence or civil disobedience. The MCHRC was asked to get involved to try to ameliorate the situation.

In April of 1993 a meeting was held in Tom Daniel's meeting room in Asbury Park. The MCHRC invited officials and law enforcement from both Belmar and Asbury Park, leaders of the black communities in both towns, the Prosecutorís Office, the Attorney General's Ď office-and leaders of the State Police.

Out of the meeting came several suggestions. We thought all were going to be instituted, but, in fact, only some of them were. The Human Relations Commission became observers and monitors in the 1993 Greekfest so that more effective planning could be instituted in future years. However, Belmar officials were "cool" to this outside "interference" and were reluctant to let the MCHRC even have an appearance of a leadership role, although we were treated politely. However, since 1993, and to date, there have not been any acts of violence or even civil disobedience. In fact, the number of police and visitor encounters was no more, if not less, than a normal - summer Sunday in Belmar.

However, the "Greeks" felt so unwelcome in Belmar that in 1997 they unexpectedly showed up in Asbury Park instead of Belmar. They have been coming to Asbury Park ever since, but the crowds have dwindled to 4-5000, - and a large part are not college students, but rather youngsters from neighboring towns. In the meantime, the Prosecutorís Office has taken a leadership role in planning and monitoring the event.

In June of 1993, Tom Daniels became Chairman and the By-laws were modified to create a position of Chairman Emeritus and I was named to that position.

In September of 1993 Bob Williams, in order to generate more activity from each Commissioner, suggested a reorganization which created a system of core and support teams, replacing the Operating Committees. He prepared a diagram to show how the then existing committees could fit into the proposed restructure. A copy of Bobís proposal is attached1. Included are the mission statements given to each core and support team.

After much discussion, the Williams proposal was adopted by the Commission and was put into effect in 1994. The By-laws were rewritten to accommodate the changes.

The structure remains in effect at this writing.

In 1998, as a result of a shooting incident by State Police on the New Jersey Turnpike, the issue of Racial Profiling became a very "hot button" issue. The Police Community Relations Core Team decided to get involved and to try to help. The question was "what should we do"? It was decided to hold a public hearing to get public input.

The first public hearing was held in October 1999 at Brookdale Community College. The purpose was to get public input and for them to tell us of their feelings and experiences. Some 300 people came and most of them told us of their "horror stories" of minorities being targeted for police traffic stops and sane of the embarrassing police actions, at best, to illegal police activity at worst.

As a result, we asked the Prosecutor to issue a policy aimed at reducing or eliminating racial profiling. John Kaye wrote a policy for review by the MCHRC and then took it to the Monmouth County Police Chiefs meeting where he got unanimous approval of the policy.

A second public hearing was held in April, 2000, by the MCHRC at the Berkeley Cabaret in Asbury Park to put the policy before the public to get their reaction. About 250 people attended. There were no negative comments but we were asked to do a program aimed at a target group of high school students. We thought that was a good idea. We received excellent cooperation from the education community and the county superintendents office. On November 1, 2000, the suggested program was held at Brookdale Community College and over 250 high school students attended. The program was well received.

The next step is to follow-up that the policy that the police agreed to is actually being implemented That is the stage we are at, at this writing.

Some of the major accomplishments since our inception are listed in the attachment titled "Programs and activities of Monmouth County Human Relations Commission."

The MCHRC has had some degree of success in its mission and has been recognized as leader in bias-reduction activity and used as a model throughout New Jersey and in other states. To overcome the problem of increasing activity and interest by more Commission members our current Chairperson, Janice Sweeney, wrote an Action Plan and set goals to accomplish them by the end of the year 2001. A copy of the Action Plan is attached1.

Webmaster's Notes:

  1. Attachments are available from David Cohen.