W hen people speak of the York City Human Relations Commission, it sometimes seems like they're talking about an organization that's only been around for a few years.
That's not true, of course. Those of us who've been around York for a while know better.
The HRC was founded in 1974, just five years after the York City riots, to hear complaints by city residents about racial discrimination in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations.
It also was charged from the very beginning with the responsibility for monitoring and reporting hate crimes and racial tensions when they occurred in the city.
So the HRC is not the new kid on the block. It's been around for almost 40 years.
And for most of those years, it's existed in a state of disarray. Controversy is certainly nothing new to the York City HRC.
Most of those years, funding has been an issue. That continues to this day.
And there were many times, including right this minute, when it operated with a shortage of board members. So frequent were the resignations, combined with an inability to fill open board positions, it was frequently a problem having a quorum to conduct commission meetings.
Last week, for instance, there were six open board seats on an 11-person board.
To make matters worse, there very often seemed to be a lack of support from the city officials at the top of the food chain. Again, today is no exception.
In short, it's been a mess.
Last week, the executive director, Stephanie Seaton, was fired after being placed on paid administrative leave about four months ago. Her work, going back three years, was being investigated by a private attorney hired by the board.
That work is done, and the results might or might not be the reason behind Seaton's firing. No one knows for sure except for the remaining members of the board of directors. Why? Because the report has not been made public despite the fact that it's a public record.
So for now, the York HRC is short one staff investigator, six board members and has no one on staff except an administrative intake support specialist -- a clerk, in other words -- who is not qualified to investigate complaints.
All cases are being reviewed and handled by the state Human Relations Commission at this time.
And to make matters worse, there are some members of York City Council who are reluctant to fund the agency with tax dollars since it seems to have stopped functioning for the public's benefit.
The more things change, including the faces that run the agency, the more things stay the same at the local HRC.
Acting local HRC chairman, Ralph Serpe, thinks the first order of business, now that Seaton has been fired, is to get the commission's board of directors up to full strength.
I'm thinking that's putting the cart before the horse.
Given all the turmoil surrounding the agency in recent months, years and decades, it would seem the first order of business might be to determine if the HRC still has a purpose here in York City.
Or York County, either, for that matter.
Unfortunately, I suspect there is more than enough discrimination going on in York City and York County these days to keep a local investigator pretty busy.
If the board agrees, then go on from there. Hire a new investigator so cases can be handled here in York where they originate. Plus, there already is a backlog of cases that's becoming more frigid with each passing day.
As for the board, I always did think 11 members were way too many. It might be better to cut the size of the board by half or thereabouts.
Say five members, seven tops. If the board can find five members who are totally committed to doing the serious work of investigating allegations of discrimination, that would be a step in the right direction.
Serpe says all options are on the table.
Whatever that means.
It could mean, I guess, that one of the options would be to shut down the local HRC altogether.
Yes, that's an option.
And if the local HRC simply can't dedicate itself to the task at hand, then maybe that's the best option for everyone.
Because looking ahead to more years of the same old, same old with the local HRC certainly is not in anyone's best interest.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.