Brian Wright retired Friday, leaving his post after more than 17 years of heading Schenectady County’s Human Rights Commission.
Wright, who had a sometimes tumultuous relationship with the ruling Schenectady County Democrats, will officially leave his job in March. After work Friday, he acknowledged that it was his last day on the job and he’ll use accumulated vacation time through the month.
Wright said the state of the commission is strong now, which gave him the impetus to move on from the position this year. He said the county, like the commission, seems to be on the right track.
“Obviously, there’s a long way to go,” he said. “But the commission is in a good place and the county’s affirmative action is in a good place.”
Wright earned a salary of $69,232 plus $8,503 in longevity pay in 2012. He was the county’s only black department head.
In reflecting upon his career, Wright said one of his greatest accomplishments was helping to establish so-called study circles between teens in the city school district and students in the county’s various suburban districts. Established in 2001, the study circles bring together about 100 students per year from different backgrounds so they can gain a better understanding of the challenges they face in their respective surroundings.
“A lot of them might not have had that opportunity otherwise,” he said. “That’s something they can take with them for a lifetime.”
Wright said he also appreciated helping to resolve the many concerns and calls for assistance he’s received over the years. Born from the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the commission aims to bridge understanding between the races, to troubleshoot problems in the community, to conduct educational programs and to handle complaints of discrimination.
“I believe I had the most unique job in Schenectady and by far, the best job,” he said.
Wright’s tenure at the county wasn’t always smooth. In 2008, he filed a complaint with the state Division of Human Rights alleging the county denied him promotions and raises based on his race, sex and age.
Wright also filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The resolution of those cases could not be determined Friday, as Wright declined to comment on their outcome and County Attorney Chris Gardner did not return a call seeking comment Friday.
The county started advertising for a new commissioner Monday, setting Friday for a resume submission deadline. Candidates are required to have a bachelor’s degree in a related field from a recognized college or university; a minimum of five years of experience in human rights, civil rights and affirmative action; and at least two years of management experience.
The new director will have a much tighter budget than Wright. County legislators have reduced the total funding allotted for the commission from $201,129 in 2011 to $112,171 in 2012, and its personnel line from $150,302 to $83,151.
Wright said his replacement will certainly face challenges, among them a growing complacency regarding issues of race and a changing demographic in the county that has blurred traditional boundaries. He said people need to be reminded that there’s more progress to be made toward true equality.
“You have progress, even though it’s not progress to where it should be,” he said.