Chambersburg Borough Council meets tonight to decide on complaint against a council member

May 17 – Chambersburg Borough Council will meet tonight at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers on South Second Street and the first agenda item is a complaint made against Council Member Allen Coffman by Dr. Rachel Day, a citizen and business owner in Chambersburg.

This comes from back-and-forth email correspondence that News Talk 103.7FM filed a right to know request to see a few weeks ago in which Dr. Day is saying she felt marginalized by Council Member Coffman’s comments.

The agenda item is exactly this: Approval of a Memorandum/Letter Regarding the Actions of a Member of Town Council Pursuant to a Borough Council Policy Adopted March 8, 2021.

Allen Coffman joined Pat Ryan, Michele Jansen this morning on First News. 

Ryan told him, “You’re a cherished part of the Chambersburg community and if someone hasn’t said thank you lately for your hard work in the borough, you get a whopping $4,000 to $5,000 and you treat it like a full time job, so thank you. That seems to be sorely missing. Thank you for all you do.”

Coffman appreciated the sentiment.

In terms of the agenda item, he said, “You notice it starts out, it says approval. That means that there’s going to be action to me. There’s going to be an approval action. There is no question about what’s going to happen.”

Ryan wondered, “What would be the more appropriate word?”

Coffman said, “Maybe discussion?”

Jansen will attend the meeting and both she and Coffman will discuss what happens tomorrow morning on First News.

A press release had been sent out from the borough last week that states: when Council reconvenes on Monday, May 17, 2021, any statement they issue, or do not issue, will speak for itself, as Council’s final disposition of this matter.

Jansen said, “So if they don’t say anything, we’re supposed to understand exactly what that means? But if they do say something I guess we can hear that and understand what it means. It’s one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever heard.”

After filling out the right to know request, staff at the radio station as well as attorney Clint Barkdoll sifted through the papers.

“When I saw that press release to me it was very interesting,” Barkdoll said. “I thought well, maybe there’s something more to this. Is there going to be a smoking gun that we don’t know about? And then when you got the right to know information, there’s nothing there. This thing is a tempest in a tea pot. I think council has waded far too into this. They’re spending a lot of money on this. It would be interesting to know how much money has been spent on attorneys in these extra executive sessions. The bottom line is when you look through the complaint and all this information they produced, you basically have a citizen that says that she feels that was marginalized by a comment that a sitting councilman made. That’s kind of what this boils down to and I think council is in real quicksand if they wade into this.”

It sets a pretty sticky precedent.

Barkdoll continued, “I think they could just get inundated with these sort of requests. What if people just start coming forward and say I felt marginalized by a comment you made at a council meeting? I think once they have set this precedent, they’re going to have to give equal diligence and consideration and deliberation to every one of these that comes in and I think that is where they are on a very slippery slope. Their action or inaction will speak for itself – I’m not really sure what to make of that either. I guess we’ll have to see what they do tonight.”

Jansen noted, “Here’s my large concern for the community – what you’re seeing play out between the council and this citizen is what you could see playing out between the community and the Human Relations Commission that they want to establish. If we apply this standard of the non-discrimination that’s been applied to the borough and its employees, it would be similar to this non-discrimination ordinance that they want to put out to the whole community, which by their own admission is redundant. You could see this Human Relations Commission having to make similar decisions for your average businessman here in Chambersburg or perhaps a pastor at a church. ‘They said something that offended me. They said something that didn’t make me feel welcome. They said something that I say is a micro-aggression against my LGBTQ+ status and we want you, subjective members of this Human Relations Commission to somehow interpret that.’ This could lead us down a quagmire of these kind of cases that are going to just bog us down in these kind of accusations.”

Barkdoll agreed, “I think that’s precisely the problem. Once they set this precedent, they’re going to have to give the same level of diligence and consideration for every one of these subsequent things that come in, whether they have merit or whether they’re entirely frivolous. What I would say, maybe the solicitor is telling them this, but you can be as pro-LGBTQ+ as you want to be. As I’ve said the past few weeks, I think all of us agree no one should be discriminated against but that doesn’t mean that every time a complaint comes in you feel that you must accept it and grant the relief. At some point I think it’s okay that they stand up and say we appreciate you here, we want everyone to have equal rights but we’re not going to just keep rubber stamping every complaint and making a statement that you’ve been marginalized. This could just be a never-ending can of worms that they’ve opened here.”

Jansen added, “Here’s the danger that Rachel Day said to the council and this really bothers me. She said ‘silence from the borough council will sanctify each of your roles in making it permissible for a fellow elected official to support nativism, wield racial micro-aggression and invoke harassment against those that speak up without reproach.’ To me that’s kind of a veiled threat to the council that I’m going to make the case you guys are racist if you don’t react to this the way I want you to and sanction this person I say did this to me. I don’t like the idea that we are going to allow ourselves to be manipulated this way.”

Ryan suggested, “That’s why they wrote it that way – what we do or do not do – they’re heading it off at the pass. Wasn’t it a while back that you (Jansen) were told to sit down and shut up? That would be Heath Talhelm and you were at a public meeting.”

Jansen said, “Quite frankly, I feel very marginalized every time I stand up there in front of President Alice Elia. Her reactions to my comments – she physically reacts sometimes to when I’m talking and she’s quite short with me compared to other people at times, I feel. And I’m not kidding about that that is my personal experience. But I could under this way that they’re making this, I could bring a complaint against her for the way she treats me. I don’t feel very welcome at all when I’m there.”

It’s also a little alarming that the word social justice is being used.

Jansen pointed out, “(Dr. Day) also makes a reference in here to the word social justice being inserted into that policy. I think borough council needs to revisit that policy. If the way she interprets that word is the way a lot of people are going to interpret that word, it doesn’t belong in any governmental policy. We have to uphold the equal application of the law under the constitution not unequal application of the law under the definition of the word social justice.”

Barkdoll said, “(Council members) do take an oath when they’re sworn in to uphold the constitution. I wish there would just be some leadership that would stand up tonight and say we appreciate the complaint, we welcome everyone here, we support equal rights, but we are not going to be the arbiter of every time someone says I feel like I’ve been marginalized. This becomes a never-ending cascade of complaints and I think most voters just want the council to get to work. We want to do things about roads and the police force and local housing. I think they have gotten themselves in a real mess with this. I hope they’re following the advice of their solicitor and they’re not getting pushed or bullied into a decision here that they unwittingly may be creating more problems for themselves. You can imagine the scenario you’re just sitting at a meeting and you don’t like the way council has addressed a question or you don’t like the way they’ve responded to another inquiry. You can just file a complaint this made me feel this way and you’ve now set a precedent that based on the way someone feels, you’re now going to take action and if you don’t take action consistent with your prior precedent I’m now taking this to court. I think this thing really is a Pandora’s Box of potential problems.”