Hanover bucks proposal for regional human relations commission

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

The Hanover Borough Council rejected a proposal Wednesday to create a regional human relations commission after several residents said the proposal would grant an unelected board the power to violate individuals' constitutional rights.

The ordinance at the heart of the discussion was part of an effort by the Hanover Area Diversity Alliance, or HADA, to establish an 11-person board to oversee discrimination complaints in Hanover, Penn Township, West Manheim Township and Conewago Township in York County, as well as McSherrystown  in Adams County.

"I really encourage the folks that are passionate about this to utilize the existing things we have in place and foster those initiatives in the borough," said Councilman Heath Chesney, who voted against the measure but said he understands there are issues that need to be addressed.

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The motion failed in an 9-1 vote.

Along with Chesney, council members Christopher A. Arter, Darlene Funk, Charles Hegberg, Christopher Lockard, Scott Roland, Barbara A. Rupp, Ray Hoover and William W. Reichart II voted against the proposal.

Jeanine Pranses voted in favor.

University of Maryland graduate and former football team captain Ellie McKennie, right, joined a protest in Hanover on Sunday alongside his sister, Ava McKennie. The George Washington Law School student is from McSherrystown.

Broad power: Section 6 of the ordinance lists the powers and duties that would be granted to the board of the human relations commission.

Among other things, the board would have the authority to hold hearings, issue subpoenas and compel witnesses to appear and testify and to "require the production for examination of any books and papers relating to any matter under investigation," based on a formal complaint filed with the commission.

"I think this is a very noble cause, but I'm super concerned about the vehicle as it's presented on paper," borough resident Ray Morris said. 

Morris referenced a provision that would allow the board to begin its own investigation of alleged racial discrimination, without having received a formal complaint, if at least two-thirds of the board agrees that it might help prevent the development of racial tension.

Other concerns among the public were the unknown financial liability for the borough, and fears that the commission would sow division rather than unity.

Amanda Beard-White, a Penn Township resident, spoke on behalf of HADA and said the group developed the proposed ordinance with help from the state examiner for the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

HADA has received reports of housing discrimination against several people, including a gay man and a single mom, a report of a Black boy beaten up by a white upperclassman at school and of a Black street vendor who had a dead raccoon thrown at him in Hanover Square, Beard-White said.

"This is the type of behavior that pulls our community apart, and we need to stop it, and this is one way that we stop it," she said.

Beard-White asked the borough council to consider tabling its vote on the proposal until council members had more time to review the ordinance and make any necessary changes.

 Pranses moved to table the vote after public comment, but the motion failed.

It was unclear Wednesday whether the other four municipalities had made a decision about the regional human relations commission.

Editor's note: An earlier drafted misstated the vote tally by which the motion to create the commission failed.