After a year of controversy and questionable future, the York City Human Relations Commission is off to a new start.
Of the six new commissioners appointed in recent weeks, four met Monday for the first time.
They spent a few minutes on housekeeping but otherwise focused on the need to re-establish the HRC's reputation.
"If we're going to be a strong committee that's going to be respected in the community, then we need to act like it," said Mark Rhodes, a new commissioner who's been on the HRC periphery for many years.
Rhodes, 53, owns Key Learning Consultants, a diversity-policy consulting company he founded in 2000.
He'd been asked before to serve on the commission before but declined, he said, because of issues within the HRC. This time, Rhodes said, he agreed to join because "I didn't want to see this thing go down."
Rhodes said he wants to see the HRC return to being an "action-oriented, get-results group" through increased educational outreach and the hiring of several investigators. People who might be inclined to discriminate need to know the HRC will hold them accountable for their actions, Rhodes said.
Earlier this year, the commission fired its executive director and paid an attorney to produce a report auditing several years of commission casework. The report has not been released to the public.
The commission, which is authorized to operate with 11 members, has steadily lost volunteers during that time.
Members of the York City Council and the public have questioned the commission's commitment to transparency and due process for Stephanie Seaton, the fired executive director.
"This crap's over. It's over as of today," Rhodes said. "You can write that."
As of Monday, none of the commissioners who sat on the board a year ago remain.
So far, Mayor Kim Bracey and the council have managed to fill six vacancies on the board. Five seats remain open.
Rhodes is serving alongside Cheril Chronister, Jose Aponte, Karen Rollins-Fitch, Stan Sexton and Caroline Williams.
Rollins-Fitch has stepped in as the acting chairwoman until the board holds its own election for an executive committee.
A Pittsburgh native who moved to York City about a year ago, Rollins-Fitch said she believes the HRC needs to develop a strategic plan that will guide it into the future.
"I don't shy away from a challenge," Rollins-Fitch, 44, said. "I hope that my service here will make a difference."
Sexton served as the HRC's chairman between 1996 and 2005. He joked Monday that the HRC never ran smoothly.
"But it ran," he said.
Sexton, 66, said he'd like the commission to be respected in the community again.
A former combat medic in the National Guard, Aponte returned to York just four months ago. Originally from Puerto Rico, Aponte said his parents moved the family to York in 1982 "trying to get a better life for their children."
After his military service, Aponte, 38, earned a nursing degree. He said he returned home to re-establish his York roots and help his parents.
On the commission, Aponte said his goal is eradicate discrimination in York and make it a model for other cities.
"I believe that with work, we can change that," he said.
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