Borough Council member reprimanded in a 6-4 vote last night because of someone’s feelings

May 18 – It’s here. After months of warning from News Talk 103.7FM, Chambersburg Borough Council presented a spot-on example of what will happen if a Human Relations Commission and Critical Race Theory ideology take hold in this town.

Borough council voted last night to issue a public reprimand to Council Member Allen Coffman, saying his email to a business owner in the borough violated a non-discrimination policy enacted in early March of this year.

Council members Sharon Bigler, Heath Talhelm, Michael Herbert, Kathy Leedy, Barbara Beattie, and President Alice Elia voted yes on the reprimand.

This all began a few months ago with a letter from Dr. Rachel Day to all members of council, expressing her belief that Chambersburg needed a non-discrimination ordinance for the LGBTQ+ community.

Coffman responded to her letter, addressing the statement she made that said “history has shown that rural conservative areas have fostered oppression, excluded and marginalized minority groups within their mainstream society.”

Coffman joined Pat Ryan and Michele Jansen on First News this morning to talk about last night’s council meeting.

Coffman’s was ushered in this morning with the Rocky theme. As it played in the background, Ryan asked what he thought.

Coffman smiled, “It was nice. I haven’t heard that for a while.”

“Well you’re going to hear it a lot more,” Ryan said. “You’re our champ and we’re in your camp. We know that your heart is in the right place. We’ve met your wife, we’ve met your daughter. You’re a good man and nobody else other than a handful of people on borough council and some other folks in town have it out for you. Allen is not a bigot. Allen is not a racist. Allen is none of that. Some of those people that sit on borough council, those folks know Allen Coffman. What you’ve got is a bunch of freaking cowards on there. You said what was in your heart. Certainly nothing that I could see that would reflect Allen Coffman being a racist or a bigot.”

Jansen added, “I went through all the testimony that Dr. Day submitted for them to make a judgment about. First of all, she contradicts herself left and right. She also, I noticed, made some kind of reference about you denying her personal experience of being marginalized. She never said that in her letter. What she said is there’s an historical idea that conservatives in rural areas marginalized and exclude people and then she accuses you of denying her personal experience. I know she gets annoyed when I say she’s obviously immersed in Critical Race Theory, but she is. She constantly gives the language of it in this testimony and the contradiction that I just mentioned, that happens all the time with Critical Race Theory. She also uses the fact that Allen responded to a different doctor in town who’d only been here for two years, even shorter than her. Why did he give her such a softball letter and then her letter was more harsh? That doctor didn’t write about conservatives being exclusionary and marginalizing. She didn’t attack conservatives the way Dr. Day did, so you cannot compare Allen’s response to those two letters. That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever and yet somehow through this twisted, crazy logic, somehow the council members found in the first initial vote it was 5-4, then last night it was 6-4.

Coffman said, “It was by party line with the exception of one voter, Mr. Schmaltz.”

Jansen agreed, “This is political. This is viewpoint discrimination. Looking at the testimony, Dr. Day does what people who believe in this ideology do. They make the people they’re talking to feel like if you don’t agree with me that this particular person is racist, that means you’re racist, too. She said that to council and this is why this is so dangerous. When you use the R word, when you accuse someone falsely of being racist, that’s like calling a black person the N word. When you say white people are racist, that’s very outraging. That makes people feel outrage. I am not a racist. Why are you calling this community racist? We are not racist. And somebody’s surprised that you took umbrage with that, Allen? You were defending your constituency in my opinion. I think what really bothers me, let’s say you were a little bit snarky at the very most. Is that so horrendous? That someone’s trying to defend their constituency from someone who’s saying that the whole constituency – and the implication is obviously clear that we are a bunch of racists here. It’s insane. And the fact that you did that, they couldn’t have brought this reprimand to you unless it violated the new non-discrimination policy and to do that, it had to be racial. The gymnastics that Dr. Day went through to try to prove that this somehow had a racial context. It boggles the mind that any reasonable people could listen to what she said and say oh yes, he did something that violated our non-discrimination policy. No you didn’t.”

Coffman said, “I think it was requested through Right to Know to have both my responses to the HR people at the borough and her responses made public. I believe they both became public information and in the very opening line I believe of her information she sent to the borough, let me read the first sentence. ‘I would first like to make it clear that I believe in free speech and every person’s right to have their own views.’ That’s the first sentence. So why are we even having this conversation? I expressed the views that I have about this borough. That’s what called free speech. I’m sorry. That’s what it is.”

“No need to apologize at all, Allen,” Ryan assured.  

Jansen pointed out, “Your case, Allen, and the way they handled it is the perfect example, they gave us the perfect model, for why we should not have a non-discrimination policy, an extra policy added, which is what that exploratory committee is debating right now. They’re debating whether or not to put sort of the same standard that they put into the policy manual for borough employees and elected officials, they want to put on the rest of the community with this non-discrimination law and the human relations committee that would judge that law. That’s the problem. You will have political subjective judgments from that group, just like the borough council did to you, Allen. They could not have given a more shining example of why we should not have this law and how risky and dangerous and divisive it’s going to be. You now have old friends who are against each other because of this. You’re going to have that in our community. It’s bringing divisiveness. It’s bringing hate. It’s bringing anger. It’s bringing mistrust. Please, people, stand up against this. You need to show up at these borough councils and you need to tell them no. We don’t want this for our community. We don’t want to see what happened to a good man like Allen Coffman. We don’t want to see that happening to the business owner here on Main Street or to the pastor down the street at the church. Because it will happen. These are the same kind of ridiculous arguments that are going to be made against community members. Maybe somebody coming into town to shop. Do you think a business owner wants to come here when he finds out we have that kind of policy? That can put him in legal peril? No. We need to stand up and say no to this new proposed law.”

Coffman added, “Three people that are on that committee are firmly entrenched in getting this Human Relations Commission set up. If you like what happened to a person last night who I think in my response to Dr. Day used his free speech and the attempt to shut that down, then expect what’s coming from a Human Relations Committee set up by these same people that just voted to give me a formal reprimand last night. The first time in 27 years I’ve been on council that’s ever happened to an elected person. Wow. Where are we going, Chambersburg? You better start talking to these people that are running for borough council and find out where they’re at with this because it’s coming to you.”

Ryan said, “You’re a good man. We are honored to have you on the radio station and the community is thankful for your work for decades here in the borough. Allen, thank you.”

Attorney Clint Barkdoll said, “I think this whole thing was really just kind of going through the motions. I still think politically it may backfire on this group. They issue this public reprimand. We’ll see what happens in the fall. I’ve talked to some people that were pushing this on either side and I keep reminding them of the James Carville quotes in an article from a week or so ago reminding the Democrats that this woke-ism, this activism is getting beyond the pale even for your mainstream Democrats and they may pay the price politically. I think it may motivate some people who otherwise were not active voters that might have been fence sitters to come out and vote for him in the fall just to show their support.”

Ryan assured, “This is not going to go away. Be very clear on this.”

Jansen added, “They give this reprimand and they recommended he get training. For something that didn’t happen? There was nothing racial in what Allen did. There was absolutely no proof, no evidence of that, yet this subjective council, the words that were used, they’re all falling into an ideology that applies unequal application of the law. I asked them where did the word social justice come from in their new policy because the person bringing the accusation against Coffman referred to that specifically and said you vowed to uphold social justice. Social justice I believe by her definition is not equal justice. That ideology doesn’t support equal justice. That’s a violation of their oath to uphold the constitution in my opinion.”

Barkdoll said, “I think what you’re seeing happen is that you have a majority of council that are caving in to a small group of very vocal, activist people that have an agenda and I’ve talked to some of those people that privately they believe they are really on a mission here to right wrongs in our community. They think they are fighting the big man and they really believe that they’re doing all this stuff to improve the community, but I think what they don’t realize is they are so caught up in this they may be undermining their own efforts here because politically I don’t think there’s any appetite for this. I think you’ll see that at the ballot box this fall. We’ll find out how much money they spent on this, let alone the time that council invested in this. Here we are, everything is now done, when the smoke all clears, what’s the end result? Nothing, really. They issued this reprimand and it has no effect.”

Jansen said, “Except on Allen and people who don’t know him and this is where I really find them at fault. That press release from last week where they talk about the pecuniary interest, to me that’s suggesting that somehow Allen financially benefited from this. No he didn’t. There was no financial benefit from this. For them to throw that into the press release and kind of give people the impression of that, I think that was wrong. And last night they implied there was a racial aspect to this which in my opinion doesn’t exist at all.”

Barkdoll pointed out, “Somebody spent a lot of time and effort on this, which translates into your tax money being spent on this endeavor and that’ll be the next interesting thing to find out.”

Ryan said, “One complaint. Billable hours. Empty store fronts and here we are with an activist borough council and dreams on some of the council on furthering their political careers just went away.”

Jansen asked, “What business wants to come in here with that threat hanging over their head if they go through with this law and this human relations council?”

Ryan said, “Allen Coffman is a guy who has served the community and the hours that that guy puts in are quite remarkable and the research that he does. It’s not like he just shows up to a borough council meeting, sits behind the desk, has a snack and then goes away. He does a lot of hard work and he deserves a lot better than what he got last night.”

Barkdoll warned, “I still think that this council has maybe opened the flood gates to an array of problems because now that they voted this way on this complaint, anyone else that files a complaint, they’re going to have to give the same amount of diligence and consideration and I think at this point if there’s a similar complaint and they vote no there’s no merit to it, they’re opening themselves to potential exposure here because they’ve now set a precedent with this action. The law recognizes something known as stare decisis, meaning that courts must follow the rulings of other courts. To some extent that applies to council in as much that they’ve engaged in this investigative process, they’ve come out with this formal opinion. They’re going to have to do the same thing now with all subsequent complaints and if they fail to do it, you can imagine a complainant making a more formal action through court to address it. I think they’ve really walked into a mess with this.”

Ryan wondered, “And quite frankly, what do they care? It’s not their money. I’m very interested in the solicitors and who got that kind of coin. Why are they writing the press releases? Don’t we have a press information officer in Chambersburg? Why am I paying a bunch of lawyers at billable hours when I’ve already got someone who’s getting a fat salary and probably health benefits and the pension? Good grief. Does anybody care about the money?”