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: Fairfax Woman Fills State Human Rights Commission Vacancy  ( 1800 )
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« : July 22, 2005, 09:27:22 PM »

Black woman tapped for rights panel

Published: Friday, July 22, 2005
By Terri Hallenbeck
Free Press Staff Writer

Gov. Jim Douglas, who earlier this year was criticized for not having a minority on the state Human Rights Commission, has filled the next vacancy on the panel with a black woman.

Shirley Boyd-Hill of Fairfax was quietly appointed last week to replace Erica Garfin of Montpelier, effective Aug. 1 when Garfin's term expires.

Douglas was required to appoint a racial minority to the panel after legislators added language to the state budget that took effect July 1. His spokesman, Jason Gibbs, said Douglas already had committed to appointing a minority by then.

In April, Douglas appointed a white woman to replace a black man, setting off a fury of criticism that a minority voice was being left off a commission that handles discrimination issues.

At the time, Douglas defended his appointment, and said, "The Human Rights Commission has responsibilities far beyond racial discrimination, though that's very important."

Douglas now acknowledges that ethnic diversity is needed on the panel because of the nature of its work, Gibbs said.

"We recognize a more conscious effort had to be made," Gibbs said.

After the criticism of his April appointment, Douglas turned to minority groups for input, said Curtiss Reed, of Alana Community Organization, a minority advocacy group in Brattleboro.

Douglas received several minority nominations for the Human Rights Commission from Reed's group and others. Boyd-Hill's husband, the Rev. Roy Hill, recommended her, Gibbs said.

Reed said he thinks Boyd-Hill will do a good job, that she is thoughtful, passionate and well-grounded, though he would have preferred someone from the southern part of the state, which lacks representation on the commission.

Boyd-Hill could not be reached for comment Thursday, but in a Vermont Public Radio interview said she has worked with a cross-section of people during her 20 years in Vermont. She said it's important for the commission to have a minority voice because "our reality is not always someone else's reality."

She also said Vermont has a ways to go in fighting discrimination, particularly against blacks. She cited housing, job opportunities and loans as particular problems. "Every day people are being discriminated against," she said.

Reed said the Human Rights Commission should be expanded so that more types of minorities, such as gays and people with disabilities, can be included.

Reed said he thinks Douglas got the message on minority appointments. "What we hope will happen out of this is that the governor pays closer attention to the composition of boards," he said.

In contrast to the April appointment, which came months after the term had expired, Boyd-Hill's appointment was made a couple of weeks before Garfin's term ends.

Contact Terri Hallenbeck at 229-9141 or thallen@bfp.burlingtonfreepress .com

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