The issues of a civil-rights commission in shambles spilled into a York City Council meeting Tuesday.
Members of York's NAACP chapter gathered outside on the steps of City Hall before the meeting to demonstrate support for the city's Human Relations Commission ordinance, which authorizes a volunteer supervisory board and paid staff to investigate allegations of discrimination in the city.
"We need to have an active and viable commission," Sandra Thompson, the group's president, said. "We need the appointment of knowledgeable commissioners who respect due process and civil rights."
The gathering followed an HRC meeting the night before, when five volunteer commissioners voted unanimously to fire Stephanie Seaton, the former
Seaton's firing followed months of tense meetings and the completion of a private attorney's audit of Seaton's recent casework. Sean Summers, the attorney, was paid with city dollars from the HRC budget.
Citing personnel issues and a privacy law, the commission fired Seaton without releasing the report or deliberating about its findings in public. Seaton and the members of the city council are among those who haven't seen the report.
The York Dispatch filed a Right to Know request with City Hall on Tuesday for the report.
Councilman Michael Helfrich said he had expected the council would receive a copy of the report after getting an email from the commission stating it would soon be "released."
"And then I was told that meant 'released' to the commission," Helfrich said.
He said something needs to change. Among the possibilities, he said, is an amendment eliminating the part of the HRC ordinance that gives the mayor the responsibility of recommending commissioners. The council must approve those appointments.
As the ordinance is currently written, "There is the potential that the appointees would have to be somewhat politically aligned with the mayor, whoever that may be," Helfrich said.
Council President Carol Hill-Evans said she felt "fiscally irresponsible," having funded a commission that isn't functioning. She said she was "appalled" by a lack of procedure at Monday's HRC meeting.
Hill-Evans said she is also interested in amending the ordinance "to make it stronger."
Councilwoman Renee Nelson reiterated statements she made during budget season last year. At that time, Nelson argued against funding the HRC as long as the agency lacked a long-term fundraising plan.
"I feel like I'm saying, 'I told you so,'" she said. "We don't have the report, yet they have the taxpayers' money we gave them."
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