Will Lancaster County Keep Human Relations Commission? Harrisburg Next?

Will Harrisburg City Be Next to Drop Commission?
By Frank Pizzoli

In a story taking on regional proportions, Lancaster County Commissioners Craig Lehman and Scott Martin last week heard public testimony on that county’s plan to disband the Lancaster County Human Relations Commission.

Will Harrisburg City be the next local governmental entity to drop its human relations commission?

Central Voice learned of a recommendation by Management Partners, Inc., that the beleaguered capital city eliminate its Human Resources Commission and forward all complaints to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. The recommendation is on page 244 of a 257-page document prepared last April by Management Partners. The report is thought to be “in play” as Harrisburg leaders focus on solutions to the city’s financial woes.

Lancaster County would also ship out complaints to the state agency. Four Pennsylvania counties operate their own human relations commissions, Allegheny, Erie, Philadelphia and Lancaster. The state is required to have a human relations commission, but local governments are not.

About 300 people filled a room in the county administration building for the Lancaster hearings. By the time the session ended at 10:20 p.m., 12 people had lined up to testify. Comments fell into three categories: (1) Is the county progressive enough to keep the commission? (2) Is the county-level service duplicative of an existing state function? (3) Progressive viewpoints and duplicity aside, is the department simply unaffordable in the county’s budget?

Commission director Robert C. Rush has told county commissioners that the entity could cut its proposed spending for next year from $474,680 to $373,468. The county budget is about $150,000 million.

The county’s possible dropping of its human relations functions does not affect Lancaster City which operates its own such department.

”It was wonderful to see the overwhelming support for the Lancaster County Human Relations Commission, especially the strong support from business and religious leaders. I thought the testimony from Kim Smith of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and Industry was particularly strong. Her experience as a lawyer made clear the advantages and efficiencies of having a local commission. I’m hopeful that Commissioners Stuckey and Martin were listening,” said Mark Stoner, Board Chair of Lancaster City’s Human Relations Commission.

A couple of hours before public hearing began about 250 people rallied in Binns Park, near the administration building. Those rallying voiced support for the commission with signs like “Don’t rush to racism,” “Don’t turn back the clock,” “We need local protection” and “I won’t stand quietly by.”

“This is about defending our local access to basic human rights,” said Lancaster city resident Adanjesus Marin, representing the Lancaster Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Organizing Committee. “If they take this away from us, we would be the only county in the history of Pennsylvania to move backwards in the arena of human rights.”


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