42 Days Till Election Day

CHAMBERSBURG – Chambersburg Borough Council offered no debate before voting to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance for members of the LGBTQ+ community in Chambersburg and form a Human Relations Commission to mediate complaints in a 7-3, along party-lines, vote last night.

Attorney Clint Barkdoll, Pat Ryan and Michele Jansen discussed the decision in depth Tuesday morning during the Big Talk on First News.

Councilmember for the Third Ward Kathy Leedy began the meeting by reading the report that was put out from the exploratory committee.

Jansen pointed out, “By the way, we found out they didn’t write it. They approved it, which is very interesting to me. The three people who were given the task of analyzing all the data and supposedly debating, so many questions that need to be answered, like how long did you debate? How did you come to your conclusions? We were given no reasoning behind anything except for the fact that Kathy Leedy just emphasized there’s a gap in the state law. She literally said that was the reason they were doing this because of a gap in the state law for LGBTQ+ people.”

Barkdoll said, “I disagree with that. This is an argument you hear a lot from these groups. When they say that what they mean is there’s nothing specifically in statute that specifically protects LGBTQ from Civil Rights issues. That is technically true, but what they leave out of that argument is they have been protected by court decisions. No less than the US Supreme Court. They’ll say well, the Supreme Court could always change their mind. No, that’s not going to happen. This was a very recent decision. They’ve incorporated LGBTQ into all of the Civil Rights protections under federal law and the states of course have to follow that, so they always conveniently leave that part out when they talk about the gap in state law.”

Jansen said, “I don’t know why it’s the job of a part time borough council to be fixing state law. First of all, I’m sorry, it’s very obvious from listening to this council last night, very few of them have any deep knowledge of these things. None of them were willing to address the questions about how do we deal with rights versus rights? How do we deal with belief system versus belief system? They just kept saying oh there’s a part of that that says that it protects religion. No it doesn’t. There’s one little thing on religious organizations. That has nothing to do with the individual beliefs that could be interfered with. Not to mention just your freedom to believe in genetic sex. Your freedom to have private spaces for females. Not to mention getting your reputation ruined if you’re even accused of something. It’s just astounding to me how people do not understand the difference between a Civil Rights violation, you actually being stopped from getting a job you’re qualified for or being able to rent an apartment, that kind of thing, versus somebody saying something mean about you. We heard over and over again about the discrimination. I don’t feel welcome. I don’t feel comfortable. Well my goodness, if we had to put every group that doesn’t feel welcome into Civil Rights legislation, there’d be no end to it. You’d have to put just about every group in there. That is not what Civil Rights are for.”

Barkdoll said, “I thought from the beginning, they are in so over their heads on this issue, but I’ve also thought from the beginning, this was a fait accompli from square one. It was clear from the composition of the study group, clear from comments that council members had made previously that the votes were there to approve this. I don’t think one vote changed throughout this whole process over the last few months, the vote came down exactly like they had said they were going to do from the beginning. There are still a ton of unanswered questions, but I think there are some more immediate unanswered political questions. This is now an issue for the November election and I think a key part to watch on this is if certain people are elected to council and you get a newly formed majority, is there a scenario that a new council gets seated come January and they vote to simply dissolve this ordinance? They would have the power to do that. This is just an ordinance. Council can create it. Council can dissolve it. So I think over the next few weeks now leading into the November election, you’re going to hear more and more of these candidates on the record, they’re going to have to go on the record, either they would support keeping this in place or they would support voting in January to dissolve it and do those issues now start to drive the vote for the November election?”

“Good question,” Ryan said. “And we posed that to Dom Brown and Dom was a solid no, I would not vote for this and Barb Beatty, Democrat, Third Ward, was a yes vote on that. Barb should be shown the door, if indeed you come down in that camp. Dennis Schmaltz who will face Larry Hensley in Ward Four. Schmaltz was a solid yes. So you got two already and you got Allen Coffman. You’re right, there is some hope for this after watching this display out of borough council president the collaboration, in my opinion, between borough council president and the borough manager here running defense for Heath Talhelm…it’s not a very pretty sight here and the transparency is really quite poor. Not answering any questions. Not answering to the public. Who actually wrote it? Who actually signed it? Where’s the fingers on this whole report?”

Allen Coffman, Councilmember for First Ward, said in an earlier interview, “I think you saw the look our solicitor’s face…when I asked him the question last night. I think he was surprised. I didn’t mean to catch him off guard. That wasn’t my intention. My intention was to show was it reviewed by our solicitor? Our solicitor has worked for us for 11 years about and the answer was basically, no. We didn’t review it. We didn’t comment on it. Why do you pass something that an unknown person writes and consider it’s good? That’s just ridiculous to me.”

Barkdoll said, “It’s a valid question. Those words didn’t just come out of thin air. They’re in that report. Someone obviously put those words on the paper and their silence is conspicuous in as much that it makes one wonder, was it one of the people from one of these advocacy groups that put that together and did this committee just rubber stamp it and say this is our quote unquote findings of the study, even though they clearly now seem to be indicating they’re not the ones that wrote it. Now they say we did put our names on top of it, we endorsed it, but I still think it’s a valid question. Who wrote those words? Who’s the one who synthesized all of this information that they were gathering to put into that final report? And now it’s even sounding like the solicitor never reviewed it or approved it. So I think that is a huge question and I hope at an upcoming council meeting, someone on council presses the issue until they get an answer.”

Jansen pointed out, “In addition to that report from the exploratory committee because I think what Allen Coffman specifically asked the solicitor as well, did you review the ordinance? They didn’t. They said oh well, we looked at it. He said did you review and approve it and the answer was no. So we passed an ordinance that the solicitors apparently didn’t review. Oh we had the guy from the state HRC look at it. That guy is a completely biased person who is promoting activism. That’s who that is. This is just stunning.”

Ryan said, “You really have peeled that one back here when you think about who wrote it and who has the stones? I call on borough council president, the unbiased Alice Elia. Come on, darlin’. Who wrote it? Who penned it? Was it Jeffrey? Was it Jeffrey’s staff? Was it you? Was it an activist? Let’s get the truth. If you guys are so damn proud about it and you’re crowing all the way about it and your solicitor didn’t even see it…well, let’s hear it.”

In terms of how this could affect business owners, could a small business in Chambersburg set up audio and video recording for any interaction with customers to protect themselves from repercussions from this ordinance?

Barkdoll said, “I think as a business you could do that. Now I guess a business owner may pause, anything they do they’re going to have to calculate, does this hurt or help business, but I actually had a call within the last week from a business owner and they were saying could they just put a sign on the front door that says everyone coming into the store, you’re under video and audio surveillance? And as long as that’s prominently displayed and as long as the customer sees it, could this be something you see that would insulate a business from some kind of a claim? I would not be surprised if you see some businesses maybe resorting to those kind of things, but I would go back to what we said the other day. If you’re a business and you get one of these complaints filed against you, my advice and I think what you would hear other lawyers say, just don’t even participate in the process. Remember they can’t fine you. They have no enforcement power. The most they could do is refer the case to the State Human Relations Commission, so I think you may see a lot of businesses if they get complaints filed against them, they may just take the position thanks but no thanks. We’re not going to participate in your process here locally.”

Jansen pointed out, “But that doesn’t answer what about those internal policies that the borough is now putting on any business that does business with them. That’s a little different because you could use your contract with the borough if you violate their social justice commitment and that’s literally what they have in their thing. They say that every employee and that includes employees of any contractors of vendors, have to support cultural diversity and social justice. Of course they don’t define what social justice means. How is this legal? How can the borough council of ten people be the judge and jury for any complaint made against a business that’s doing business with the borough and have the power to take away tax funded contracts from any business they choose if a complaint is made? Because they’re not following or don’t have the right attitude or behavior for social justice. How in the world is that legal?”

Barkdoll predicted, “That internal policy is a lawsuit waiting to happen because you can already envision as soon as a big business gets a contract cut off or they’re not awarded a contract for an alleged violation of something, I think they’re going to be off to the races in court. Part of it’s going to be based on what you just said. You can’t have this just at the discretion of council as the judge and the jury and the prosecutor, so I think that is a lawsuit waiting to happen.”

In terms of the internal anti-discrimination policy for borough employees, how about posters in a business?

Barkdoll said, “I think there’s all these sort of wild scenarios that you could see playing out in a court at some point and I think all of them would be a real problem for the borough.”

Ryan said, “Freaking amateur hour.”

Jansen said, “It’s so irresponsible. We heard about the business owner that kept asking the council over and over again, what does this mean? And once again, zero answers from them. Crickets. How is this responsible? To not even answer, give people an idea of how this law applies to these real world situations and they won’t answer it. That’s not what elected people are there to do. That’s why I agree with Pat. We’ve got to get these people out of there. You are an elected official. You work for the community. You owe them answers to these questions before you pass a law.”

Barkdoll said, “These positions are not mutually exclusive. As we’ve said everyone supports equality. We all endorse that. We support LGBTQ rights, but you can also be against these kind of ordinances. They are not mutually exclusive positions, but council has taken the position that if you don’t support this nondiscrimination ordinance, that must mean you’re anti-equality, anti-LGBTQ rights and I think they’re really getting into a legal quagmire here if this stays in effect and they start issuing citations and notices to local businesses.”

Jansen pointed out, “Everybody who stood up last night to oppose the ordinance said exactly what you just said. They said I fully support equal rights. I fully support the LGBTQ community having the same rights as everybody else, but I have a problem with this. And you know what people who countered them stood up and said? They sort of indicated that proves you’re a bigot. Just by saying that, that proves you’re a bigot.”

“It’s incredible,” Barkdoll concluded.