The summer’s drama with the Human Rights Commission is still lingering. In August, one-third of the nine-member board resigned after months of disagreement and difficulty and, now, one of those former members – Pat Pryor, erstwhile commission chair – has written a letter to the county legislature offering details about her decision to leave.
At the time of her resignation, Pryor was only willing to offer limited insight into the reasons for her departure. She said that there had been some tension with Human Rights Director Karen Baer after Pryor pursued making a correction to a press release and that the problem had been further exacerbated by the controversial development of a communications protocol. Finally, things came to a head after three other members of the HRC’s executive committee drafted a letter to “voice a vote of No Confidence” in Pryor.
After the letter, both Pryor and fellow commission member Dave McNamara resigned on Aug. 7. On Aug. 20, one of the letter’s signers – Talyse Hampton – resigned as well.
On Sept. 25, Pryor penned a letter offering more background on her decision. Although previously she had mentioned problems with Baer, Pryor has now outlined the specific problems in more detail.
She writes, “The one concrete thing I’ve been told by Karen that I did wrong was to talk with Peter Stein about the fact that Karen was angry with me. My remarks to him took place in the context of a casual conversation where he asked me how things were going with the Commission. Although my comments in response were generally positive, I did say to him that Karen had responded very angrily when I attempted to reach the OHR in time to let staff know that there was a mistake in a press release that needed to be corrected before it was sent out.”
Pryor writes that at the next commission meeting, she was “excoriated” loudly by Baer because of her interaction with Stein.
“Subsequently, in a separate meeting,” she writes, “a ‘Communications Protocol’ that had been prepared ahead of the meeting was read to me that, in essence, said that anything said in a Commission meeting stayed in the meeting and was not to be discussed with anyone outside the meeting. Another theme of the protocol was that in talking with ‘outsiders’ we were to only say positive things.”
According to Pryor, such stipulations both violate the state’s Open Meetings Law and the HRC’s by-laws. Nonetheless, she says that she agreed because, “I was told that if I didn’t agree to the ‘protocol.’ it would be taken by Commissioners as evidence that I did not want to ‘move forward.’”
As tensions increased, Pryor said that she reached out to a previous commission chair to oversee a meeting. At that meeting, she writes, “One commissioner said that if I didn’t resign, she would. But, still, no one would tell me why they were so angry.”
Pryor writes that subsequently she tried to schedule meetings with Baer to work things out, but Baer wasn’t interested.
Ultimately, she said, “I realized that, barring a resolution of the situation with Karen, which she was unwilling to allow to happen, I would never be able to effectively lead the Commission.” Thus, in early August, Pryor tendered her resignation.
When she was contacted about the Sept. 25 letter, Baer declined to comment.