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Chester County Press

Kennett Square Borough takes a stand against discrimination

03/07/2017 01:01PM ● By Steven Hoffman

Kennett Square prides itself on its diversity and celebrates its culture of inclusion and equality. On Monday night, Kennett Square Borough Council put its commitment to diversity and fairness in writing.

An enthusiastic, standing-room-only crowd turned out for the meeting as borough council considered the adoption of an ordinance that prohibits discrimination. The ordinance that was under consideration also establishes the creation of a Human Relations Commission that provides people who live and work in the borough with a local resource to address discrimination complaints.

Council members introduced the ordinance for discussion two months ago after being prompted by some community activists who raised concerns about all people being treated fairly in the borough.

The ordinance under consideration 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, natural 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.”

In short, the ordinance aims to provide protection from discrimination to all people who live or work in the borough. The ordinance 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.

While federal and state regulations already prohibit such discrimination, several council members supported the concept of establishing a local ordinance.

The size of the crowd illustrated how important borough residents felt the ordinance was. There were more than 125 people in the audience in the Red Clay Room, and there was no doubt that they overwhelmingly favored the ordinance's passage.

Mayor Matt Fetick noted that the crowd was much larger than one that could be expected for a meeting when the borough would be considering raising taxes.

“The community involvement has been significant on this ordinance,” Fetick said.

Borough residents lined up at the microphone to share their thoughts with borough council.

“We live in difficult times,” said borough resident Carlos Navarro. “There is fear in the Hispanic community. We need to know that we have friends in this community.”

Kimberly Flamini, a resident of the borough for the last six years, said that she moved to the town in part because of the diversity of the community. She said that it was good to see an ordinance that reflects the spirit of equality and diversity that residents want to see in the borough.

“That's what is magical about this town,” she said.

Another resident, pointing out that the ordinance provides protection for everyone, wondered who could be against it.

A letter from Kennett Square Borough resident Gail Bowden was read for the audience. Bowden wrote about how the discriminatory rhetoric of President Donald Trump could create an atmosphere where intolerance and discrimination could go grow—setting the country back decades with regard to relations. The ordinance would signal that Kennett Square residents are moving forward, not going backward.

Not everyone who spoke during public comment agreed with the adoption of the ordinance. Borough resident Prissy Roberts said that she felt that the ordinance could potentially create unnecessary legal costs for the borough, and could also add unnecessary work for borough officials that might better be handled by trained professionals in Philadelphia or Harrisburg when complaints are filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

John Thomas, a lifelong borough resident, said, “Discrimination, I am not for.” He added that he is worried that people representing the borough won't have the necessary expertise to handle the scenarios that could potentially develop. “It concerns me that a bunch of volunteers will make decisions about my life.”

Once everyone had the opportunity to share their opinions during public comment, it was the council members' turn to discuss the ordinance.

Council member Wayne Braffman made the motion to adopt the ordinance and Ethan Cramer seconded the motion so that council could deliberate. Both Braffman and Cramer have championed the ordinance since it was first publicly discussed.

Braffman said that he got emotional when the large and diverse audience rose to pledge allegiance to the flag at the start of the meeting.

“I knew we were about to pass an ordinance that was worthy of that flag,” Braffman said. “I am proud of the residents of Kennett Square for coming out and showing your basic human goodness.”

Council member LaToya Myers said that she was in full support of the ordinance.

“I'm raising my daughter in this community. The ordinance is very much needed,” she said.

“I am very much in support of this ordinance,” added Cramer. “This ordinance came out of the Latino community. This council asked the Latino community to be more that there are no barriers.”

Cramer added however that, “This is not a Latino community ordinance. It protects all different people.”

He illustrated the point by commenting that LGBT youth can be particularly vulnerable to discrimination and intolerance. He said that the ordinance provides them with protection.

“[The ordinance] says to those people, we want you here, and we want you to be safe,” Cramer said.

While stating his support for the ordinance, council member Doug Doerfler pointed out that it's all the people who live and work in Kennett Square who will determine how effective an ordinance against discrimination is once it is enacted.

“This has the potential to positively impact relations in the borough,” Doerfler said. “All of us need to work to build relations. This policy won't do that. We do that.”

Fetick was invited by council president Dan Maffei to share his thoughts on the ordinance, even though the mayor would not get to vote.

“As a member of one of the protected classes in the ordinance, I struggled with the ordinance,” Fetick said. “Any time that we call out a particular class of people, I feel like that alone can serve to divide us. I would rather the ordinance just say that we are a community that cares about each other. But I think it's important that we put into writing, and we take a stand, to help people...who feel disenfranchised.”

Fetick noted that, as mayor, he has ten days to sign or veto an ordinance after it is adopted by council. When the mayor vetoes an ordinance, the council can then override the veto with a super-majority vote. Fetick said that he was contacted by 14 people who wanted him to sign this ordinance if it was adopted, and six people who urged him to veto it.

“If borough council passes this ordinance, I will sign it into law tonight,” Fetick pledged. The large crowd cheered in delight.

Kennett Square Borough Council then voted unanimously to adopt the ordinance, prompting most of the people in the audience to stand up and cheer.

The anti-discrimination ordinance 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 this Human Relations Commission will be charged with the duty of providing public education and to promote diversity and inclusion in 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 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.

In order to serve on Kennett Square's 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 person making the complaint will also be notified by the Kennett Square 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 the receipt of the complaint. Once 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 really at the heart of what the Kennett Square Human Relations Commission will be doing. The commission will hear from the aggrieved party, hear from the respondent, and the commission will then sit down and try to work out a solution.

By adopting the resolution against discrimination, Kennett Square joins more than a dozen other municipalities in the region that have similar ordinances on the books.