York City Mayor Kim Bracey said Tuesday she was "dumbfounded" by news that none of the Human Relations Commission's six members showed up for a regularly scheduled meeting Monday night, leaving a dozen people to wait more than 45 minutes for word of the cancellation.
Bracey said she plans to consult with the city's solicitor to determine what the administration can do about a quasi-independent city department headed by a volunteer commission that seems to be falling apart.
"This is ridiculous now," Bracey said. "We have to figure out what authority I have."
For any other city department, the mayor has supervisory power. But, when it comes to the HRC, the mayor's role is limited to appointing commissioners, who must also be confirmed by the York City Council.
All other power is reserved for the commission, which is authorized by city ordinance to investigate allegations of discrimination. As Bracey pointed out, the commission's annual budget is at least partially funded with local taxpayer dollars.
"There is no real supervisory role for the city administration with HRC," Bracey said. "Something has to be answered and found out here."
Bracey also expressed concern about the status of the commission's executive director, Stephanie Seaton, who's been on paid administrative leave for three months.
"We're talking about city resources now and somebody's life basically in limbo," Bracey said.
The commission placed Seaton on leave Nov. 19, citing a lack of confidence in the accuracy of her monthly reports. They later hired an attorney to conduct an independent audit of Seaton's casework dating back three years.
They haven't met publicly since Dec. 17.
Monday's 7 p.m. meeting was confirmed as part of the 2013 schedule in an email last week from the commission's administrative intake support specialist. But none of the six commissioners ever showed up, frustrating people who'd come expecting an update on the HRC's audit.
Among them was Rebecca Moore, who said she attempted to file a discrimination complaint with the HRC in early December but was told she'd have to contact the state's Human Relations Commission in Harrisburg.
A phone call to the PHRC's spokeswoman was not immediately returned Tuesday.
Moore said she had to wait for documents to arrive in the mail and had no help filling out the paperwork -- as she would have had from the city's HRC office. Moore said she's frustrated that Seaton continues to receive full pay and benefits but can't assist residents with civil-rights issues.
"I don't understand why we should be inconvenienced," Moore said.
Seaton, who was also among the dozen people at Monday's meeting, said she continues to receive a paycheck but has had no communication from the board about her future employment.
The commission is also without a leader.
Days after the Dec. 17 meeting, Chairwoman Dolores Abreu submitted a resignation letter to the mayor. In her letter, Abreu cited "a lack of respect" among some commissioners for "other commissioners, the duties of the commission, for proper rules for our meetings, and for the community attending our public meetings."
Abreu's resignation left the commission with just six members - one of whom continues to serve despite a technically expired term. York City's ordinance authorizes 11 members, but many have resigned over the past year.- Erin James may also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.