York City Council members are frustrated with the Human Relations Commission, which, after months of inner turmoil, has essentially ceased functioning.
The quasi-independent agency, partially funded with taxpayer dollars, is supposed to investigate complaints of discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations, as well as to monitor and report hate crimes and other civil tensions in the city.
But it doesn't seem like much of that work has been done in the past few months -- or possibly longer, depending on what's in a report from a local attorney hired by the HRC to audit its caseload for the past three years.
The commissioners asked for the audit after placing executive director Stephanie Seaton on paid administrative leave last November, citing a lack of confidence in the accuracy of her monthly reports.
They met Monday, the first public meeting since Dec. 17, and fired Seaton, but refused to release the results of the taxpayer funded audit -- not to the public, not to city council, not even to Seaton.
The commissioners cited personnel issues and privacy in keeping the report secret. But an attorney with the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association said the report is presumed to be a public record, and it's the HRC's responsibility to redact any private information it might contain.
Seaton already has filed a civil suit alleging the commission violated a series of state Sunshine Law sections, beginning when she was placed on administrative leave.
Who's right or wrong here, and what's even the issue? No one will know unless that report is released.
The commissioners themselves have done little to earn the public's trust.
The city's ordinance authorizes 11 commissioners, but a series of resignations have left just six -- one of whom continues to serve despite a technically expired term.
The most recent to resign was former chairwoman Dolores Abreu, who 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."
A lack of respect certainly was apparent last month when not one of the six remaining commissioners showed up for their advertised meeting, leaving a dozen people to wait more than 45 minutes for word of the cancellation.
Despite an agency in shambles, members of York's NAACP gathered outside City Hall before Tuesday's York City Council meeting to show support for the Human Relations Commission ordinance -- if not the current commissioners themselves.
During the meeting, some council members had concerns about funding an agency that isn't functioning and expressed interest in changing the authorizing ordinance.
But it might take more than an amendment to fix what's wrong with this agency.
The city council might want to start from scratch, taking into consideration what's worked during the commission's nearly 40-year history -- as well as what clearly has not.
There also must be a way to provide autonomy to investigate complaints, while at the same time ensuring the commission is more accountable to the city taxpayers who fund it.