CHESTERTOWN — The vote to establish a Human Rights Commission was delayed Monday night when the mayor and council by majority vote sent the ordinance to committee. The aim is to make sure the language of the resolution regarding Black Lives Matter in Chestertown is in sync with Ordinance 07-2020 that establishes the commission.
The earliest the full council could vote on the amended ordinance would be the next regularly scheduled meeting, which is Nov. 16.
Currently, the draft ordinance allows an independent commission to investigate and resolve allegations of discrimination by town agencies and businesses — language that subsequently was stricken from the resolution against racism when it was adopted.
On Monday night, Councilman Tom Herz brought the inconsistencies between the resolution and the ordinance — what he described as “disjointed text” — to the attention of his colleagues.
Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver, who introduced the ordinance and has been its biggest champion, accused Herz of stalling.
“Tom, I’ve got to ask this question because we’ve been up and down this road for a while. Just what exactly is your problem with this resolution and this ordinance? What is the real problem behind this?” Tolliver asked Herz.
In response, Herz said he was a “huge fan” of a Human Rights Commission, but he was not in favor of the ordinance as it is written.
Herz then said he had as many as 15 changes he’d like to make, “and they’re not trivial.”
Among his suggestions is to broaden the scope of discrimination to include age, race, disability, sexual orientation and religion.
Herz made a motion to send the ordinance to committee, which would consist of at least a quorum of the mayor and council. The committee would discuss and vote on suggested amendments, and then report back to the full body at its next meeting.
Councilman David Foster seconded the motion.
“I’m concerned that the resolution we passed is not in sync with the ordinance. This is a serious defect,” Foster said, adding, “I believe we have to sort out these things.”
The motion passed 4-1, with Tolliver dissenting.
Though she voted with the majority, Councilwoman Meghan Efland said she did not like having to wait another two weeks to vote on the ordinance.
The committee will meet 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 9. The meeting will be livestreamed for public viewing.
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Herz said he sent emails to Mayor Chris Cerino and each of the council members asking them to confirm they would attend the meeting. He said as of press time, Cerino, Foster and Efland had committed.
A public hearing on the ordinance was held Oct. 26, with the expectation that the vote would be Monday, Nov. 2.
At Monday’s meeting, prior to the back-and-forth between Herz and Tolliver and as part of a general discussion of a Human Rights Commission in a small town like Chestertown, Cerino read into the record 10 letters — eight in favor and two opposed.
One of the letters of support and one of the letters in opposition were from individuals who live outside of Chestertown limits.
Another of the letters of support came from the Student Government Association officers of Washington College.
As Monday’s nearly two-hour meeting was coming to a close, Tolliver in his ward report said he was looking forward to seeing how the resolution and ordinance would play out.
“I know we’ve been through a long process with it. It’s tested our nerves and our resolve as a council, but I’m still encouraged and happy about all the work that we have done to open conversations that we’ve had about it,” he said.
“I think it’s been a great thing for the Town of Chestertown to make the effort to come to grips with its history with racism and slavery, and to be the leader in the county to stand out front and be the ones that are going to call it out for what it is and try to do something about it. ... Thank you all for the work we are doing. Let’s not give up. Let’s keep pressing,” Tolliver said.
Cerino said this is a new concept for him. As mayor, he is more accustomed to seeing that a budget is balanced or potholes are patched.
He said he wants to make sure that “whatever we end up with, it’s something that we can do and do well.”
Tolliver introduced the ordinance establishing a Human Rights Commission at the Oct. 5 council meeting, which also served as the first reading of the ordinance.
The resolution commits the town to establishing a Human Rights Commission to be empowered with the task of gathering information for review, analyzing data and making necessary recommendations toward the effort of resolving allegations of discrimination in employment, housing, education, recreation and other human relations areas by town agencies and by businesses.
At least 50% of the proposed seven-member commission must be people of color.
The commission will issue an annual racial justice and equity report.