Hatboro Borough Council was presented with a draft of a human relations ordinance Monday.
The ordinance was drafted by members of a subcommittee including borough council Vice President Nancy Guenst, council member Aleta Ostrander and borough Solicitor Michael Savona. Borough Manager Tommy Ryan and police Chief James Gardner also provided assistance in the draft.
The ordinance, if enacted, states it would prohibit “discrimination in access to employment, housing and public accommodations.”
The purpose of the ordinance is “to foster equality and equal opportunity for all citizens, regardless of actual or perceived ethnicity, race, color, ancestry, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity or expression, marital and familial status, age, sexual orientation, mental or physical disability, use of guide or support animals or mechanical aides and/or source of income in all matters effecting employment, housing and commercial property, public education and public accommodation.” It would also “safeguard the right of all persons to remain free of discrimination or discriminatory practices,” as stated in the ordinance.
“It includes everybody that is in or will come into the borough,” Guenst said of the ordinance. “We owe this to each other and it’s the right thing to do.”
Council member Bill Tompkins was concerned that, in time, a group could be left out.
“We’re expanding this to as many classes of people as possible,” Savona said. He also noted that the borough could always amend the ordinance to add groups in time if anyone is left out.
“We tried to draw this to cost as close to nothing to the borough as possible,” Savona said.
The ordinance states that members who would serve on the human relations commission, either Hatboro residents or business owners, would not receive compensation. Human relations commission members, as stated in the ordinance, would receive free training from the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.
It also states that “any costs or expenses which may be associated with the mediation shall be the responsibility of the parties.”
“It’s a chance to sit down and tell each side to a commission member,” Savona said.
The mediation that would follow a complaint would not be a publicly advertised meeting, he said.
The Hatboro Human Relations Commission would not just be about discriminatory law, it would also serve to educate the community on equality and discrimination, Guenst said.
Borough Councilmen John Zygmont, Vincent LaSorsa and Tompkins were concerned that costs could arise from the commission that were not initially foreseen. However, Savona said costs are controlled with the borough’s annual budget.
“There may not be anything tangible in the first year,” council President Marianne Reymer said of projecting possible costs the commission could incur.
Another concern raised by Zygmont was that the ordinance did not include penalties for falsely accusing discrimination. There are not penalties under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act for falsely accusing, Savona said, but the accused has rights under common law such as slander and libel.
In addition, Savona stated that in order to file a complaint to the commission, a person must sign a verified statement. A person who lies on a verified statement could be charged with perjury, he said.
“I think this is a great start to an ordinance,” Hatboro resident Bill George said. “I believe that there isn’t a problem here, but it’s a preventative measure. It’s got to start somewhere, there’s no better place than in our own backyard.”
“If it’s not passed, I would want to leave the town,” Hatboro resident and business owner Keith Roman said. “It’s an important group and you’re going to turn down possibilities for people to come and feel welcome in Hatboro,” he said of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender group.
The subcommittee that drafted the ordinance is going to take suggestions into consideration made Monday and make changes to the draft, Guenst said.
“Do not expect a vote on Oct. 25,” she said, explaining that the subcommittee needs to meet to make changes and then present those changes to council again. Guenst projected that the ordinance will probably be voted on the fourth Monday of November.