Kennett Square Borough Council discusses ordinance that would safeguard against discrimination
● By Steven Hoffman
In an effort to take a stand against all forms of discrimination, Kennett Square Borough Council on Monday night discussed an ordinance that formally prohibits discrimination in the borough.
The ordinance states that, “It is necessary that appropriate legislation be enacted to ensure that all individuals, regardless of actual or perceived race, color, sex, religion, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, familial status, marital status, age, mental or physical disability, use of guide or support animals and/or mechanical aids, are afforded equal opportunities for employment, housing, ownership or lease of commercial property, and the use of public accommodations.”
Council member Ethan Cramer said that council was prompted to consider an anti-discrimination ordinance by some community activists who raised concerns about all people being treated fairly in the borough.
The ordinance further declares that it is the borough's public policy to safeguard all individuals' access to all public accommodations, and that discrimination in housing, employment or public accommodations is strictly prohibited.
Council member Wayne Braffman explained that West Chester Borough has a similar ordinance on the books, and it was utilized as a guide when Kennett Square's ordinance was drafted.
The anti-discrimination ordinance also includes a provision to establish the Kennett Square Human Relations Commission that will consist of no fewer than three and no more than five members who will be appointed by borough council.
Members of the Human Relations Commission will be charged with the duty of providing public education and to promote diversity and inclusion within the borough, and to act as a liaison to community groups and civic organizations, and to serve as a community resource regarding diversity, anti-discrimination, and equality. Members of the commission will attend training and education seminars or sessions as deemed necessary to acquaint themselves with the functioning of the Human Relations Commission under the ordinance.
Having a Kennett Square Human Relations Commission will give people who live or work in Kennett Square with a local resource to help address concerns that arise. Complaints filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission often require the person to travel to Philadelphia or Harrisburg.
More than a dozen municipalities in the region have had similar ordinances on the books.
“We're not the Lone Ranger on this,” Braffman said. “I think we're doing the right thing here.”
In order to serve on the Human Relations Commission, a person must reside in the borough, and no more than one member of borough council may serve on the commission at any time. No member of the Human Relations Commission can hold office in any political party.
People who believe that they have suffered discrimination can file a complaint with the Human Relations Commission or the office of the borough manager, and within thirty days of the receipt of the complaint, the Human Relations Commission will send a copy of the complaint to the person or persons who are the subject of the complaint. The complainant will also be notified by the Human Relations Commission of their right to file a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, and, if the complaint relates to employment, with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
According to the ordinance, the respondent—the subject of the complaint—will file a written verified answer to the complaint within 60 days of their receipt of the complaint.
After the answer has been received, the Commission can invite the two parties to voluntarily participate in the mediation of their dispute. The parties must respond to the invitation to mediate within 30 days of being invited to mediate their dispute.
Mediation is at the heart of what the Kennett Square Human Relations Commission will be doing.
Cramer explained that the commission will hear from the aggrieved, and hear from the respondent, and the Commission will sit down and try to figure out a solution. He added, “It's very much a mediation-based process.”
Borough officials are hopeful that people with some training or experience in mediation will volunteer their services as mediators on those occasions when the Kennett Square Human Relations Commission can't facilitate a solution.
There was an additional part of the ordinance that included expanded procedures like a public hearing and a ruling body that would have the authority to potentially hand out fines and penalties. Kennett Square Borough solicitor Marc Jonas said that he had serious reservations about the expanded procedures, and he recommended omitting them from the ordinance.
Council agreed that changes in the ordinance's language, including the deletion of the expanded procedures, were necessary. Council directed Jonas to make the changes and report back to them when the ordinance is satisfactorily revised.
Council seemed to generally be in favor of adopting an anti-discrimination ordinance.
Cramer explained that the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission is down to 72 employees from 100 as a result of state budget cuts. Consequently, there are long delays for people who are filing reports. Having a local Human Relations Council will provide residents with the opportunity to have their concerns addressed.
“I am in support of the ordinance,” Cramer said.
Council member Doug Doerfler said that he liked that the ordinance included training for the members of the Human Relations Commission so that they understand their responsibilities. He said that he's hoping that the ordinance will lead to more cooperation with regard to heading off issues before they can become big problems.
Luis Tovar, a member of the borough's Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs, spoke in favor of the ordinance, saying that it is something that will help ease the pain and fear of people in our community.
“We know that there is a lot of uneasiness in our community,” he said.
Resident John Thomas spoke in opposition to the ordinance, explaining that people already have protections from discrimination at both the federal and state level that would make a local ordinance unnecessary.
“I think this is a redundant law that, on the local level will not solve anything,” said resident John Thomas.
If the changes to the ordinance are completed by then, council could vote to advertise the ordinance for adoption as early as its Feb. 21 meeting.