Lancaster County Commissioners Repeal Human Relations Ordinance

Religious groups joined the effort to keep commission. With microphone, Rabbi Paskoff addresses crowd last fall while The Committee to Defend Civil Rights in Lancaster organizer and activist Adanjesus Marin looks on.

In a 2-1 vote this morning, Lancaster County Board of Commissioners voted to abolish its 40-year-old countywide Human Relations Ordinance.

Calling the measure an effort at “cost containment,” Commissioners Scott Martin and Dennis Stuckey approved abolishment. Commissioner Craig Lehman voted against closing down the operation. In a long, public dialogue that drew people to public meetings with signs and forged coalitions, commissioners’ vote had been long awaited.

“While I know that the Lancaster County ordinance was not lgbt-specific, a civil right is a civil right,” explained Equality Pennsylvania board president Brian Sims. “Any protection against discrimination is a benefit for everyone in a community. Today the commissioners claimed their actions were driven by a simple need to save money. Let’s hope that argument isn’t a precursor to what may happen in Harrisburg when the General Assembly starts wrestling with the budget challenges faced by the state come January 2011.”

Cost containment also plagues capital city Harrisburg. Will the city be the next local governmental entity to drop its human relations commission?

As reported in the Sept-Oct 2010 issue, Central Voice discovered a recommendation by Management Partners, Inc. that the financially 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 January, originally a 29-page document, and expanded in April to 257 pages by Management Partners. The consulting firm had been asked by Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson to prepare a financial management plan for the city to consider as it seeks ways to pay down $288 million in debt.

Although the report is now thought of as no longer “in play,” cost containment never goes out of fashion. Harrisburg city controller Dan Miller in a formal report to city council forecast income of $54 million for 2011, about $6 million less than recent years’ annual budgets.

Like Harrisburg, the Lancaster County Human Relations Commission is a taxpayer-funded agency started in 1962 to resolve local conflicts. Supporters have said it’s more in touch with the Lancaster community than a similar statewide agency, but those who backed the proposal to cut the agency have said it’s redundant.

Equality Pennsylvania partnered with and supported the efforts of leading repeal opponent, The Committee to Defend Civil Rights in Lancaster. Led by activist Adanjesus Marin, the group began its work in March 2010 when they initiated a public campaign to add lgbt protections to the county ordinance. Their efforts began after a public forum on a similar statewide initiative in which about 250 Lancaster residents expressed strong support for such protections.

“Today’s vote once again demonstrates the inherent unity of the lgbt equality movement with the broader civil rights movement. This attack on all civil rights was in part a reaction to our community’s demands for inclusion. The enemies of lgbt rights and civil rights are the same and as we move forward to win protection against lgbt discrimination we will continue to fight side by side to restore the protections taken away today,” Marin commented.

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