Some members of the York City Council bristled last week at the Human Relations Commission's plan to hire an attorney to conduct an independent audit of recent casework.

So far, there's no price tag on the proposed audit, which the volunteer commission approved Nov. 19 at the same meeting it placed its executive director on paid administrative leave. The HRC is an independent agency authorized by York City ordinance to investigate allegations of discrimination in the city.

Asked to provide a "ballpark" estimate of the audit's cost, Commissioner Ralph Serpe said he couldn't.

"We have been asked to guarantee that the work of the commission is being done in a timely manner," Serpe said. "That's what the investigation is around."

The money: The lack of a price estimate concerned some members of the council, which is in the process of vetting Mayor Kim Bracey's 2013 budget proposal. A balanced budget must be approved before Jan. 1.

Councilwoman Renee Nelson said she feels like she's being asked to allocate money to a commission that's made some recent decisions she doesn't fully understand.

"You're questioning the books," she said. "Something is going on."

Councilman Michael Helfrich questioned the need to hire an attorney as opposed to asking another investigative agency to audit the city's commission for free.

"I'm just having a hard time spending money to do this," Helfrich said.


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Serpe said the commission has already interviewed attorneys. They've asked for "greatly reduced" rates, he said.

On Monday, the commission's personnel committee will recommend an attorney to hire, he said.

"Our intention is to ensure that we are serving the people of York, that we are doing what we say we do," Serpe said.

Budget cuts: Bracey's budget poses another potential problem for the HRC's finances.

The mayor's 2013 budget proposal cuts more than $19,000 from the HRC budget compared to this year's funding level.

Zeroed out are the line items for postage, travel, printing and advertising -- to name a few. The bulk of the HRC budget, about $150,000, would remain the same in 2013.

Serpe said at the budget hearing Thursday that he expects the HRC will have to raise money to make up the difference in the 2013 budget. He joked that a bake sale might be in order.

It's not an ideal situation, Serpe said, but also "not impossible."

"It makes the day-to-day work of the commission difficult," he said.

-- Erin James may also be reached at ejames@yorkdispatch.com.