FARMINGTON — Mayor Tommy Roberts on Monday asked the Community Relations Commission to consider moving toward professional mediation to handle complaints, saying the current process has proved ineffective.

"I'm here to ask you to consider it, to discuss it, to give it a fair hearing," Roberts said.

Most of the nine commissioners said they would consider changing their process for handling residents' complaints about discrimination.

The commission rules on complaints as sustained, not sustained or unfounded. Additionally, the respondent can be exonerated or the complaint can be referred elsewhere.

Several commissioners said they were frustrated with the current complaint process.

"We're not achieving the results that we should be achieving," said Commissioner Eugene Baker. "You need someone, like the mayor said, to be a go-between."

The only clear opposition to Roberts' proposal came from Commissioner Catalina Liles, who said the commission must protect its independence.

"When we started out, we didn't want to be sitting in the mayor's lap, and that's exactly what you're asking us to do," she said. "You want us to just be public relations people, and that's not what we were set up to do."

Roberts responded: "I don't want you to be public relations people. I want you to be effective in what you do, and I don't think you are."

Roberts said the commission should focus on education and outreach.


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The commission meets monthly to hear complaints and discuss cultural issues and discrimination. It serves as an advisory board to the City Council and mayor.

When the commission receives complaints from residents alleging discrimination, it sometimes sends commissioners to speak with the complainant. The complainant and respondent are invited to discuss the complaint, but often one or both sides do not show up, commissioners said.

Roberts urged the commission to move away from sending home a "winner" and a "loser" after hearing complaints. He proposed creating a panel of four or five professional mediators who would volunteer their time as a community service. The mediators could hear complaints on a rotating basis, he said.

Commissioner Randy Joslin said mediation could be effective.

"I've been very frustrated with the process," he said. "For one reason or another, we can't get both parties in the room at the same time."

Commissioner Art Allison said the investigations commissioners have presented on their own have not been "up to par."

"We need some type of real professionals there," he said.

Commissioner Francis Mitchell expressed some reservations about using mediation, saying Navajos will not participate if the process sounds like a court hearing.

"When you mention that, Navajos do not want to come forth," he said.

Joyce Donald, an ex-officio commissioner, said she often uses lawyers in mediations with the Better Business Bureau. "Both sides are heard," she said. "I honestly feel it's a very fair way."

Commissioners agreed to consider Roberts' proposal as an action item at their April meeting.

That meeting may be the last for five of the commissioners, whose terms are expiring. Roberts said he would consider reappointing them if they express interest.

Chuck Slothower: cslothower@daily-times.com