With weather and COVID and nothing on fire, shouldn’t we slow down the push for a decision on the nondiscrimination ordinance in the Chambersburg Borough?

September 1 — With a flash flood watch in effect until tomorrow and the Chambersburg Police Department warning of downed power lines and tree limbs, a lot of people are wondering why the special meeting for Chambersburg Borough Council is still happening.

School districts are either virtual or closed completely. Some are dismissing early.

But as of this posting, the meeting is still a go.

Attorney Clint Barkdoll, Pastor Adam Meredith from Antrim Brethren in Christ Church, Pat Ryan and Michele Jansen discussed the special borough council meeting this morning on First News.

Jansen said, “I’m sure there will be much lower turnout. They also were saying you have to social distance and wear masks so we’re already cutting this down on so many levels. I asked them I said with this surge going on right now and all the concerns people have for going out why don’t we postpone this because the whole idea is to allow the people who haven’t had a voice yet to come and have a voice. They said maybe Zoom but you’re not going to be able to comment. How in the world is a borough council who claims it wants to represent the whole community, first of all having this meeting during this surge where people are going to have to social distance and wear masks and maybe be worried about coming out if they’re elderly or if they have vulnerabilities. You’re not demonstrating that you care about hearing the community when you had the meeting to begin with. Now you’re persisting on having it when it’s flooding weather and we don’t know what’s going to happen today. How could you be more clear that you’ve already made up your mind what you’re going to do?”

Meredith added, “Either you really want to hear from everybody and you’re asking people to put themselves at risk to come out tonight, which doesn’t make sense. Or you want to give the impression of hearing from everybody but really you’re just going to push through what’s already been decided. Neither of those are good options. Certainly it would make sense to me for anybody listening, reach out. The whole point of the meeting tonight was to hear from the public and now you’ve got at the very least, the remnants of a hurricane bringing inches of rain and predictions of flooding. I’ll be the first to say it’s hard to make these cancellation decisions for weather. But it’s helpful whenever you are working on those things if you hear from a bunch of people, we’re asking you to cancel or postpone, that makes it easier.”

Barkdoll said he thinks it’s legit to postpone it. “They have the advantage of this being an evening meeting so they still would have time this morning, early afternoon. This is a very serious situation. You look at what these forecasters are saying. I talked to various municipal officials yesterday and they are really concerned about this rain event. We know how things are bad if we get two or three inches of rain. Some of these forecasts are saying we may have upwards of six, seven maybe even eight inches of rain. If we get into that realm, I mean this could be a shut down that goes beyond today and I think you could see some really dangerous situations around our communities here.”

Meredith spoke at an exploratory committee meeting, raising questions about the nondiscrimination ordinance and in addition to not getting any answers to his questions, in the report the council, none of his points were included.

Meredith said, “Any of the concerns that we raised were just essentially pushed to the side and in all of this, you can discern the difference between hearing from the people and leading representatively versus giving the impression of hearing from the people and then doing what you decided that you wanted to do.”

The other issue with the special meeting is while pubic comment is welcome, it’s not clear whether there will be dialogue. Should they then be taking a vote on the spot?

Meredith said, “I would not think a vote tonight would be the right thing to do. Take your time. Allow everybody a chance to process. Give people a chance to have their input, have their give and take. There’s no rush for a decision like this, both holding the meeting in the middle of weather like this, but then also if and when the meeting takes place to vote the same night it certainly gives the appearance of pushing things through.

Jansen said, “There’s no hair on fire reason here to do this tonight. They could easily postpone this.”

If borough council goes ahead with the nondiscrimination ordinance for the LGBTQ+ community, say a local bank gets the bid for financing a building for the borough and someone reads a post from someone in the bank that goes against what the borough believes in terms of discrimination. Could the contract for the financing of the building get thrown out?

Barkdoll said, “My reading is they could even do that now without the NDO. Remember back in March, Council unanimously passed this nondiscrimination policy for their own employees, including elected officials and volunteers. That nondiscrimination policy applies to contractors and vendors, so the NDO aside, the scenario you just described I think in theory they could take action based on what they adopted in March.”

Ryan said, “You’re setting the whole borough up for much bigger problems in this, yes?”

Barkdoll said, “Under that scenario I’m not clear what the review process is. If the borough says you’re not eligible to do this contract to the bank because we believe you’ve engaged in some kind of discriminatory behavior, it’s not clear from that policy if there’s an avenue for redress or review. Could the bank ask for some kind of a hearing? Or if it’s silent, could the bank just take it right into court and ask a court to get involved to review what the alleged discriminatory behavior is or was?”

Barkdoll isn’t aware of any scenarios where the borough has actually exercised this to an outside contractor or vendor, but sooner or later it will happen.

Barkdoll said, “I would imagine if you’re that contractor or you’re that vendor, particularly if it’s a big contract, you’re not just going to say oh thanks we’ll see you another time. They’re going to want to address it whether it’s through the court system or through some internal process in the borough.”

How far back would the search for social media posts go? What if it was five or 10 years ago?

“I think they could,” Barkdoll said, “Someone’s digital footprint could go back many, many years and I don’t think this nondiscrimination policy is saying it was from March forward. So they could look at anything retroactively that a potential contractor or vendor has engaged in to determine if they violated this policy. Some of that gets back to the question how many resources, how much money is being allocated, who’s internally vetting this for the borough?”

According to a press release from last Friday, the borough is saying they are not adding staff or budgeting money for any of this.

Barkdoll said, “It’s still not really clear to me how this is being policed. Is it self reporting? Does it turn into like the Hunger Games like you’re describing? Does the competing vendor that didn’t get the contract do they try to go after the one that did win the contract and find something in their prior social media postings? There’s some kind of wild scenarios when you get into that. But again, five, six months into it thus far, I’m not aware of the borough vetoing any vendor on violating this policy.”

Jansen said, “Jeffrey Stonehill made it quite clear. They have that in place and they will use it. He said this at the exploratory meeting. These exploratory meetings had such a wealth of information. It’s why we keep playing little parts of them over this last week because most people don’t even know what was said in these meetings. He said it’s a very expansive list of protections that are far in excess of those protections already under state and federal law and they basically made a business determination that if there is a corporation or individual that arises through an employee or a customer that is determined by the council to have discriminated in one of those protected classes they would become ineligible to do business with the borough of Chambersburg. They make it sound like they are the people that are the investigators, adjudicators and determinants of things like contracts based on a complaint that could be made by a customer to the borough if they happen to be doing a contract with the borough. This to me I think this is something they should explain in full before we move forward with an ordinance because in the advisory report to borough council they indicated well we’re going to expand what we’re already doing with the policy to the rest of the borough now through this ordinance. Now I realize the ordinance has some limitations compared to their expanded internal policy but for them to state that makes me feel like they are going to take that and use it any way they deem fit.”

Do people get the chance to complain about posts they see from borough council members?

“I think so,” Barkdoll said. “That policy from March applies to employees and council members as well. So I think in theory anyone could bring a complaint. Even volunteers are covered in that policy. So I think in theory any of those scenarios could occur and again I think it’s very interesting that they voted on that 10 to nothing. So the ones that are now in the minority saying this is just awful, I think they need to answer some questions themselves. They voted for this unanimously back in March and if they’re now going to come out and say well I didn’t know what I was voting on, that doesn’t make me feel very comfortable. They should be reviewing these things in a lot more detail and a lot more scrutiny. Maybe this did slip on an agenda and they just rubber stamped it through, but as we’re now talking about, this is really creating some problematic scenarios going forward.”

How is this being enforced? Is the borough itself being the judge and the prosecutor and the jury on these particular scenarios?

Jansen said, “Well the one time they applied it, it was them. Solely them. The person who brought the charge, went to council, gave it to council and Salzmann and Hughes got involved. It actually cost money. So they did spend money on it and it was the council that completely made a subjective decision based on information that if you look at all the evidence that we did a Right to Know on and we looked at, there was nothing in there that indicated a reasonable person would have thought there was a nondiscrimination racial violation by Councilman Allen Coffman towards a constituent. But they handled it completely. There’s a lot of questions we need answered. A lot of questions that council, they demonstrate that they’re not looking at these things carefully enough so how can we trust that the whole council is looking at what is coming down tonight potentially with this ordinance when they handled the other one so badly? We need a lot of questions answered before we move forward with a vote for this ordinance.”

It would be very interesting to see how some of the council would respond to why did you vote for the nondiscrimination policy from March? How is it that council is serving as the jury, enforcing your own policies, including when it was against one of their own council people?

Barkdoll said, “That would never fly in a court system, but yet at least in the one case there that we do know about that they exercised, that’s exactly how they did it.”

Jansen added, “I would suggest go to www.tristatealert.com, go to our Facebook page. We have a link to the emails. I wonder how many of them were aware of the backstory and all the emails back and forth between the president and the borough manager on this very subject. On the internal policies that were going to change. There was emails back and forth leading up to that. Salzmann and Hughes, I couldn’t get the emails that were going between them and whoever helped them write this policy. They’re the ones that did the presentation in January. They’re the ones that drafted the changes. Who made those changes?”

Ryan said, “And if it’s you as you listen to this radio station, come clean. Come on. Put it all out there. If this is your agenda, this is what’s happening, then come out with it. Why were there Right to Knows declined on the Salzmann Hughes conversations back and forth.”

Jansen said, “Something tells me all the council members were not apprised of all this back and forth and thinking that went into this.”

Asking the candidates running against current council members what they think about the NDO would be a good idea, too.

Because if you want to see changes made, the best place to do that is at the ballot box.