Is the Chambersburg Borough looking to be the Godfather of PA? WAIT until you hear what came out of the exploratory committee meeting last night

July 1 – A very interesting detail arose last night at the exploratory committee meeting for the Chambersburg Borough Council tasked with looking into a possible nondiscrimination ordinance for the LGBTQ+ community and a Human Relations Commission.

To see the details of the presenters, click here:

When members of the business community in Chambersburg suggested that they have not heard of any problems with discrimination, the Borough Manager, Jeffrey Stonehill was asked to detail a policy the council voted on last March to enhance their discrimination policy.

Here’s his direct quote from the meeting:

“In March of this year, the Borough of Chambersburg did something which I’m not sure any other municipality in the state of Pennsylvania did. Council adopted a far-reaching internal control policy by which we said as a municipality we would not have a business relationship with any individual or corporation that does not protect both its customers and its employees on a sweeping, very expansive list of protections that are far in excess of those protections already under state and federal law. What we did through that policy is we basically made a business determination that if there is a corporation or an individual or an employee or a customer that has been determined by council to have discriminated on one of those protected classes they would become ineligible to do business with the borough of Chambersburg. That would be the effect of that policy. As you know the Borough of Chambersburg has the largest operating budget of any borough in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. And we do have far-reaching business relationships…and therefore obviously if one were to be found by council to be engaging in discriminatory behavior, that would be a significant blow to them to no longer be able to be eligible to do business with the borough of Chambersburg.”

Attorney Clint Barkdoll, Pat Ryan and Michele Jansen discussed the meeting this morning on the Big Talk during First News.

Ryan’s comments after the Stonehill’s audio played were, “Wow. If it was found out by council?”

Barkdoll said, “I have a lot of questions about what Jeffrey is representing there. How is it possible that the Chambersburg borough has the largest budget of any borough in Pennsylvania? Technically it is true, but it’s because they run their own electric and natural gas service. If you strip those pieces out, the borough’s budget is actually very small compared to other boroughs around the state. Who in the borough is enforcing this investigative tool? If I’m doing a contract with the borough, is someone calling me to make sure I have policies in place and that I’ve not discriminated? How’s that being paid for? If it’s the solicitor that’s being tasked to do that on every contract they’re engaging in, you’re talking about a substantial expense year to year.”

As an example, let’s look at the employees for gas service in Chambersburg. They wear uniforms. The borough orders the uniforms from a company. Is someone looking into the company to see what their policies are? Will they research any possible complaints filed against them?

Most importantly, who’s doing this and what is it costing, ultimately, the tax payer?

Barkdoll said, “This could just be a never ending can of worms. It seems to me that the borough has unwittingly created a larger problem if in fact this is the new policy that they’re going to be strictly enforcing.”

Jansen did some digging.

She said, “There is a contract you have to sign. There is new paperwork associated with this new enhanced policy and you have to sign it if you’re going to do a contract and get money. What right does the borough council have to use taxpayer money and in my opinion to extort certain behaviors that they deem are worthy in terms of this enhanced and expanded beyond what the state and federal level does? This is all very unsettled law but somehow this borough council in all of their wisdom, somehow they have the wisdom to decide what the definition is of gender and sex and they’re going to enforce and make sure that anybody who wants to dare have a penny of their substantial money and their contracts, which they said is large financial institutions, it’s car dealers. It also implies to their employees. If it’s determined any one of their employees has defied what they deem to be the proper way to treat people then they lose their contract automatically. Apparently there is legal paperwork for every one of these contracts that they have to sign and agree to this. Also if you want to sit on a board or a commission with the borough or you want to volunteer or you want to have any kind of interaction with them as a nonprofit, maybe a religious organization, you also have to sign this paperwork and agree to all of their standards or you can’t do business with them.”

Barkdoll said, “The problem with all of this is, it’s all so subjective. These are very gray areas in court. I think the borough could be setting themselves up for some kind of a lawsuit down the road. If I’m a Wall Street investment firm and I’ve submitted a bid to manage say the borough’s pension and I’m the low bid and the borough says we’re not going to give you that contract because we don’t think you have adequate policies in place that deal with say work place hiring. I think that place is going to sue. I think they’re getting into very tricky territory legally with that sort of a policy.”

How the policy came to be is also interesting.

Jansen said, “As far as we know all it says in their documentation is that there was a request at a public town council meeting that the borough solicitor’s office review existing policy and report back. The memory of individuals I talked to was that this was Alice Elia made this request at the very end of the year.”

The solicitor’s office looked at the policies and did a short presentation with not a lot of depth. 

Jansen said, “I don’t think the council knew exactly the implications of what they were voting for, quite frankly. It was unanimously voted. This was way under the radar. They’ll probably find some way that they said ‘oh yeah we had it out there for public comment.’ Nobody knows that stuff happens. There was no public input on this thing at all as far as I can tell.”

The perfect example of the consequences to this is what happened to Councilmember Allen Coffman. Coffman sent an email to a community member that at the very worst was maybe – only maybe – a little snarky, certainly nothing violating racial or nondiscrimination policies.

Jansen said, “We saw how the borough council subjectively decided to weigh this and find him guilty and they gave him a reprimand. That can hurt your reputation. Can you imagine if that’s a business and this subjective borough council decides that some business who made some statement that they deem as violating their policy?”

Ryan asked, “Who the hell are they?”

The bottom line monetarily here is that large vendors would have the financial capital to outman the Borough of Chambersburg and that’s where lawsuits could come into play.

Barkdoll said, “The borough is going to find itself with one problem after another. The overarching issue here is I have still not seen the evidence from the borough that this is a problem. When they say they’re the only borough in the state that have done this, I’m not sure that’s something I would be that proud of in as much that other boroughs, they are operating very effectively and determining look if we believe this sort of a problem is happening we’re going to address it through the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission or the federal EEOC.”

Ryan said, “What you also have is a whole bunch of bureaucrats that don’t run businesses that aren’t in business, they don’t’ understand business.”

Last night at the meeting, Mike Ross, president of the Franklin County Area Development Corporation said this the exploratory board:

“I personally and professionally have embraced diversity and inclusion as a foundation of any community and I think that’s the opportunity for people to be able to express themselves and to grow. With respect to this particular issue, I’ve never had a business raise this issue at all. Ever. My question is what problem are we trying to solve here?”

Barkdoll said, “I think all of us endorse what Mike just said there. We all endorse the idea of diversity and inclusions and equal rights. We want that in our community. If I’m on that board, I’m really listening carefully to Mike Ross and Steve Christian. These are the experts. These are the people plugged into the community. These guys are coming into the board saying we’re still not clear what the problem is. They’re not reporting back to this board that they’re hearing from their business clients that there’s a problem. Why in the world would this board continue to move this thing forward?”

It was after that that Jeffrey Stonehill was asked to detail the March policy quoted above.

Jansen said, “I almost feel like it was a you might not want to push back too hard on what we’re trying to do here because we have a lot of power over people who want to do business with us. That is pure speculation on my part. Here’s the problem: they’re making everyone agree to their point of view of what’s discrimination and not discrimination. We know this is a huge problem in our country right now, trying to come to terms with trying to define this. We know good people are losing their jobs, they’re having their reputations ruined because some subjective decision is made that you’re hurting someone even if you didn’t intend to do it.”

Jansen knows one person who refused to sign and quit the board they were on.

“That’s going to be a chilling effect,” she said. “How are people with certain points of view going to feel welcomed to have their point of view on any of these boards or commissions if they’re forced to sign onto really something that is extreme ideology when it comes to LGBTQ? This is belief system. This is a theology almost that they’re forcing everyone to agree to or you don’t get the tax money or you don’t get the voice in council or in public meetings. This is wrong.”

Ryan said, “If you don’t speak up and you don’t let your council person know or you don’t let the president of council know or you don’t let Jeffrey Stonehill know then you’re going to be steamrolled. They’re coming for you next.”

Barkdoll said, “Ultimately this is coming down to a group of four, five, six council people that are apparently the ones that are continuing to push this. They need to hear from constituents. They need to hear from business owners. I would put a lot of deference and weight in what the Mike Rosses or the Steve Christians of the world would be saying. These are the representatives of our business community and when they come into a board saying can you define for me what is it we’re trying to solve, I think that board really ought to be pausing before they move forward with this too quickly.”

Jansen added, “They are putting themselves at risk here. If I was somebody who regularly does business with the borough and I was forced to sign on to this kind of ideology I’d be thinking of a lawsuit. Because this is not right. And that’s not their money to extort people with. That is taxpayer money.”

Ryan said, “That’s MY money! All these lefty Democrats that have got it in their mind that want to defund the police. They want to reimagine the police.”

Jansen said, “Re-educate you on your belief system.”

It would be nice if the relationships between borough council and the managers and solicitors were more independent.

Barkdoll said, “For better or worse that’s our system in the US, certainly in Pennsylvania. The borough manager reports to council so if council wants to implement policies X, Y and Z, even if the manager thinks it’s awful, well the manager either has to get on board and go along with it or he or she could simply resign or council can fire him. The same dynamic is true to a lesser extent though in the concept of a municipal solicitor. They work at the direction of council. The solicitor gives them advice, gives them guidance. The borough doesn’t have to follow that advice and guidance but they certainly should, but once council goes in the direction they’re going to go the borough manager, all the assistants, the solicitor, they need to get on board to do whatever the council directs them to do. This is our system. It’s not perfect. That’s where constituents need to call their council people directly and get engaged in this because ultimately that’s where the buck stops. The buck stops at the council level.”