Haverford: Human-relations panel to be named shortly
by Timothy Cwiek
Sep 20, 2012 | 1254 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Nineteen months after Haverford approved an ordinance extending antibias protections to the LGBT community, a human-relations panel to investigate antibias complaints hasn’t been established.

Last week, more questions about the township’s commitment to LGBT equality were raised when its board of commissioners passed an antibias resolution related to township contractors that doesn’t include LGBT protections.

In February 2011, in a 5-4 vote, the board enacted a comprehensive antibias ordinance that covered employment, housing, commercial property and public accommodations in the township, a suburb 10 miles west of Philadelphia.

The law bans discrimination based on race, color, religious creed, ancestry, age, sex, national origin, handicap or disability, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression and use of guide/support animal.

It authorizes the creation of a seven-member human-relations panel to investigate antibias complaints, and allows for penalties of up to $5,000 per discriminatory act.

The state Human Relations Commission doesn’t investigate complaints based on sexual orientation and gender/identity expression.

Thus, local antibias complaints based on those categories must be handled by individual municipalities.

Larry Holmes, a member of the township’s board of commissioners, said he wants the panel appointed promptly.

“The sooner, the better,” Holmes told PGN.

He said a legal challenge to the 2011 ordinance won’t dissuade the board from appointing the panel and that a judge hasn’t enjoined the township from doing so.

In June 2011, resident Fred W. Teal filed a legal challenge to the ordinance, claiming the board exceeded state law when extending the LGBT protections.

Last week, Teal, 77, vowed to fight any effort by the township to appoint the panel while his challenge remains pending.

“If they try to go ahead and move forward with the commission, I’ll file a motion in court to block it,” Teal told PGN. “They would hurt their own case to do that.”

His case remains pending in Delaware County Common Pleas Court, though both sides have sent letters asking that the case be assigned to a judge promptly.

Teal is representing himself in the matter.

Haverford Township Manager Lawrence J. Gentile said 18 residents have submitted applications to serve on the panel.

Gentile said appointments to the panel are expected to be made by January.

But Holmes said he wants the panel seated prior to that time.

Board president William F. Wechsler said the panel “was in a holding pattern for a period of time” due to Teal’s challenge.

“We thought his lawsuit would get thrown out in a month or two,” Wechsler told PGN. “We didn’t want to appoint members if they couldn’t function. But now we’re moving forward like nothing is happening.”

David M. Rosenblum, legal director at Mazzoni Center, hopes the board will seat the panel expeditiously.

“We were delighted when they passed the LGBT ordinance, and would hope the panel is seated as soon as possible so the law they passed has an enforcement mechanism,” Rosenblum told PGN.

Resolution sparks added concern

Concerns about the lack of a panel were heightened Sept. 10 when the board unanimously passed a “resolution in opposition to discrimination” that doesn’t include LGBT protections.

The resolution states the township “shall not participate in or support the activities of businesses, institutions or organizations that discriminate against any individual or group for reasons of gender, race, religious creed, color, ancestry, national origin, age, disability or veteran status.”

The resolution doesn’t include LGBT protections, nor does it include protections for people who rely on support or guide animals — protections that were specified in the 2011 ordinance.

The resolution adds protection on the basis of “veteran status,” which wasn’t specified in the 2011 ordinance.

Louis M. Devecchis 3rd, a township resident who pushed for the 2011 ordinance, said the antibias resolution should include LGBT protections.

“The resolution in its current format is sending the wrong message,” Devecchis told PGN. “We fought too hard for [inclusion in] that law to have it undermined by this resolution.”

Devecchis said he wasn’t informed of the resolution prior to its passage.

Rosenblum, of the Mazzoni Center, also spoke out against the resolution in its current form.

“If you’re going to have a resolution reaffirming your commitment to nondiscrimination, then it should reflect all the protected categories in the township,” he said.

Holmes stopped short of saying a new, inclusive antibias resolution would be introduced.

But he vowed to personally ensure that any township contracts with antibias provisions also contain protections for the LGBT community.

“If we’re going to enter into contracts and require certification that the contractor doesn’t engage in discrimination that we find improper and unlawful in our township, I want the contractual language to be as broad as our prohibition against discrimination is in Haverford Township,” Holmes said.

He plans to discuss the matter with other township officials, he said.

“I’ll talk with the solicitor and discuss with other board members whatever steps we may need to take with this resolution to accomplish what we effectuated in 2011,” Holmes added, “I want to assure the LGBT community that I’m no less committed today than I was in 2011 to LGBT equality.”

Both Wechsler and board member Mario Oliva said they would support an LGBT-inclusive antibias resolution if one is introduced.

Board member Daniel J. Siegel, who introduced the Sept. 10 resolution, had no comment on whether he’d introduce an LGBT-inclusive antibias resolution.

But in an email, he explained why he introduced last week’s resolution.

“The current resolution, which I introduced, was not designed to address a specific concern (as was the 2011 ordinance),” Siegel wrote. “Instead, the resolution was intended to assure that the township has a policy that all township services and activities are conducted in a non-discriminatory manner and with businesses that do not discriminate. Thus, the resolution addressed broad categories (gender, race, religious creed, color, ancestry, national origin, age, disability and veteran status) and did not focus on the same concerns as those the board considered in 2011.”

Board members Steve D’Emilio, James E. McGarrity, Jeff Heilmann, Chris Connell Sr. and Jane F. Hall had no comment on whether they’d support an LGBT-inclusive antibias resolution.

James J. Byrne Jr., the township solicitor who drafted the Sept. 10 resolution, couldn’t be reached for comment.

The next board meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Oct. 9 at the Haverford administration building, 2325 Darby Road in Havertown.

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