An otherwise uneventful first day of Metro Council budget hearings ended in an argument Monday over the line of questions directed at Metro Human Relations Commission Executive Director Kelvin Jones.
During the Human Relations Commission’s budget hearing, Jones was pressed on issues such as the department’s line item expenditures for advertising, travel and outreach. Jones stumbled to answer some of the questions and was pressed further by several Council members, especially District 4 Councilman Michael Craddock.
At-large Councilman Ronnie Steine said the tough line of questioning for Jones came from members sitting in two separate camps on Council — those who find the Human Relations Commission unnecessary and those who question Jones’ leadership. Jones has been at the job for five years.
At-large Councilman Jerry Maynard criticized Council members for the level of scrutiny applied to the proposed $387,000 Human Relations Commission budget when other departments breezed through without any questions.
Craddock responded on the floor by saying the budget hearings are only just beginning and added that Maynard “might be in for an education” because the level of scrutiny applied to Metro departments in this tough fiscal year would be intense.
“It’s amazing to me the number of questions he had to answer about travel and advertising and all that when other departments get told, ‘Good job,’ and not asked a single question,” Maynard said.
The Human Relations Commission was created by Charter in 1965 to receive complaints regarding allegations of discrimination. Last year the commission received about 1,900 complaints.
During the budget  hearing, District 30 Councilman Jim Hodge questioned Jones about the trip he took to Denver last month as part of a delegation of Nashville leaders on a study mission. The trip’s focus ranged from public transportation, regionalism and public education.
“There’s a small minority [of Council members] who don’t believe in the Human Relations Commission,” Steine said. “I would say the vast majority of us believe in the work that they do, but there are frankly serious questions about leadership there. And that’s what they’re getting at and actually people are mincing questions and trying to be kind in their questions.”
Jones promised he would provide Council members with answers to questions regarding the commission by the end of the week.