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Editorial: Human-rights commission needs to restrain itself

Swimming outside its lane is not a good look for advisory panel

When it comes to arrogance masquerading as self-righteousness, it would be hard to top recent behavior of the Arlington County government’s Human Rights Commission.

On their own initiative, and ignoring well-established protocols, the body’s members (appointed by Arlington’s County Board) fired off a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, demanding an investigation of the operation of the county’s jail.

While some more sensible members of the panel preached caution and urged their colleagues to go through the normal channels – sending a request to County Board members, asking them to write to the Justice Department – the body’s majority rejected that view in an end-around maneuver that seems to have no parallel in recent memory.

To state the obvious: It is not the place of government advisory panels to be going outside their scope of authority.  And the behavior in this case already has caused County Board members to send their own letter to the Department of Justice, disavowing the action and stating that the commission had no right to make the demand.

(At the Feb. 9 meeting where the Human Rights Commission made its ill-advised decision, one member of the body voiced concern that the County Board and county manager “could retaliate against us.” Ya think?)

Those who viewed the entire 90-minute discussion from Feb. 9 (as we did) will wonder why neither the commission chair nor county staff stepped in to wrangle the situation under control, as that, frankly, is why they are there.

During the discussion, one member of the body, a former chair who ultimately abstained on the vote to send the letter, raised the likelihood that going around county leadership ultimately would hurt the commission’s desire to see improvements in jail operations, since it would result in a jurisdictional battle and simply irritate the powers that be.

In our view, she was correct. Commission members did themselves and the community no good.