York City Human Relations Commission seeks other funding
The York City agency that investigates discrimination complaints seemed to be on its last legs in 2013, when dysfunction, funding issues, departures and a firing caused it to essentially stop operating.
The HRC once again is looking into new allegations of discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations in the city, but its future is far from certain.
The quasi-independent agency last month just barely survived a city council attempt to cut its already-limited funding.
Three years ago, the volunteers who made up the commission were leaving one after another, until the agency, authorized to have 11 members, at one point had just five. Those few who continued to serve didn't always attend scheduled meetings.
City officials questioned the work of the HRC's executive director and the effectiveness of the agency itself. Some wanted to cut its funding, saying it wasn't as self-sufficient as it should be, while others wondered if it was time to rewrite the law that authorized the commission some 40 years ago.
The commission hired a private attorney to conduct an audit — the results of which are still sealed — that later led to the dismissal of the director, who had also investigated discrimination complaints.
With no investigator, the commission could not function, and all complaints were forwarded to the state. That went on until 2014, when the HRC finally hired a new investigator, Tonya Thompson-Morgan.
Thompson-Morgan said she's been working through the backlog of cases that built up before she was hired, plus a few new cases.
Although it is still without an executive director, the commission is up to nine members now, and some of them pledged to seek other funding sources after dodging what commissioner Ken Woerthwein called a "death blow" from the city council.
The council originally cut the HRC's 2016 funding by $20,724 on Dec. 28, a move that was vetoed the next day by Mayor Kim Bracey. Council members restored the money when it approved the final budget Dec. 30.
The commission is still hurting, according to Chairwoman Karen Rollins-Fitch, especially because it's understaffed.
Woerthwein agreed, saying the HRC "does best when it has strong leadership and adequate funding."
However, some members seem to understand that "adequate funding" is going to depend on their own efforts.
"The council made it clear that we need to do some fundraising," Woerthwein said.
An upcoming fundraising luncheon will help, he said, but not "to raise the kind of money the council wants us to raise."
At the Dec. 30 council meeting, Commissioner Stan Sexton raised the possibility that the agency could seek grants and perhaps work with the police department to seek other types of funding.
Council has urged the commission to get certification in order to get funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Woerthwein said the HRC recently learned there is money left over from previous HUD grants, totaling about $18,000, that could soon become available to the commission.
As for seeking new HUD funding, Woerthwein said that won't be easy. "Unless we can demonstrate that we're actively investigating cases of housing discrimination, getting HUD funds would be difficult," he said.
How you can help: The HRC will host a fundraiser from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 14, at the Yorktowne Hotel, 48 E. Market St., York. Tickets for the event, called the Diversity Luncheon, are $30 for adults and $15 for students.
Anyone interested in attending can contact the commission's office at (717) 846-2926 or go to http://yorkcity.org/human-relations-diversity-luncheon.
— Reach Julia Scheib at email@example.com.