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New Farmington discrimination panel has critics

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FARMINGTON, N.M. – Three Farmington residents who have filed two complaints with a city commission formed to address discrimination issues say they are dissatisfied with the panel’s handling of their complaints.

The 15-member commission was formed in 2007 after the shooting a year earlier of a Navajo man by a Farmington police sergeant strained relations between whites and American Indians.

Commission chairman David John says the new citizens group is short-staffed and is still learning its role in handling discrimination complaints.

Julian Yellow Jr., 29, of Newcomb said he hasn’t received any communication from the commission about his Nov. 20 discrimination complaint filed after he overheard his manager at Burger King say he needed to let go of Native workers and start hiring white people.

“Nothing has happened,” said Yellow, who has since found a new job.

A spokeswoman for Burger King did not respond to requests for comment.

Commissioner Emet Rudolfo was supposed to investigate the complaint, but was out of town, John said. Rudolfo did not return a phone message.

Linda Monchamp and her husband, James, say that Presidential Construction in Farmington discriminated against them by failing to fix their home and greeting James Monchamp, an Ojibwe tribe member, in a derogatory manner.

Company president David Spencer denied any discrimination took place and said he fixed the couple’s home.

Linda Monchamp said the commission seemed confused about how to address the couple’s complaint.

The Monchamps also are upset that John told a local newspaper that the construction company and the couple were “stubborn.”

“For the commission itself to refer to people that have brought a case before them as being ‘stubborn.’ ... is totally inappropriate,” Linda Monchamp said.

John said his comments stemmed from a misunderstanding and he has apologized to the Monchamps.

The commission is supposed to use the complaints, which must be filed within 45 days of an incident, to advise leaders, businesses, organizations and the public on improving relationships.

But John said the commission does not want to promote the filing of complaints.

“We just want to educate the people out there that there is such an office that they can come to if they have a complaint. ... instead of trying to encourage them to make complaints,” he said. “That’s not what we’re all about.”

John said the commission met with the Navajo Nation’s Human Rights Commission earlier this month and has made complaint forms available in City Hall and at its downtown office in the old library.

The group gave a presentation at City Hall in November to local business owners and managers on discrimination and future presentations are planned.

But John said the commission suffers from a lack of staffers for complaint investigation, which commissioners do themselves.

The commission couldn’t make a decision on the Monchamps’ complaint because Eugene Baker, who investigated their complaint, was absent earlier this month.

Baker, a San Juan Regional Medical Center chaplain, said the hospital unexpectedly called him into work.

He plans to present his findings at the commission’s March meeting.

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