The Swarthmore Borough Human Relations Commission stands to grow by two to four members, and to gain additional functions, if Borough Council votes next Monday to approve changes proposed in a new ordinance. At the April 1 work session, council’s General Government Committee chair Sarah Graden described the proposed changes to borough statutes which would be effected by ordinance #1086, and set the context for action.
Graden said that following December’s “hate letter” incident involving several high school students and four or five Swarthmore households, the General Government Committee held a community forum. Graden then met with current HRC members to discuss the commission’s role in potential resolution. That role is limited: the HRC is currently constituted to address discrimination and bias incidents that occur in the borough. It was established in 2006 to investigate incidents of sexual orientation or gender discrimination not covered by state law.
“Swarthmore is still on the forefront of protecting rights of our residents,” Graden said. “That won’t change. This proposed change will clarify the HRC’s ability to provide education and outreach to prevent discrimination, foster equal opportunity, and address incidents of bias that may lead to tension between racial, ethnic and other groups.” For instance, in a case of hateful vandalism, Graden said, “The HRC will be able to advise this council on appropriate ways to respond, it will be able to interact with the police department, to work with the community to address their concerns. … And also, at any time, the HRC can coordinate educational events and trainings.”
(Later discussion touched on the potential value of this proposed educational component to increase awareness of the complaint-initiated process by which the HRC works, and on the ability of council to prompt investigations through the HRC, which is an independent body. Solicitor Robert Scott said, “We can ask; they’ll respond as they choose.”)
The General Government committee and HRC commissioners would like to expand the number of HRC members, and include representatives from other marginalized groups. The search is on for candidates for three-year terms. General Government recommends 5 to 7 members, but Council would later resolve to authorize the exact number of members.
The proposal will come to a vote at next week’s legislative session of Council, which would with a positive vote authorize advertising of the ordinance for public comment as a necessary precursor to adoption of the ordinance.
Also on the docket for the April 8 council meeting is a vote to fund leasing of a new police vehicle. Will it be an unmarked or a marked car? A little bit of both. According to Swarthmore Police Chief Raymond Stufflet, it would be a white car with white reflective “shadow lettering,” which would not be immediately apparent during the daytime but would become highly visible when illuminated by headlights after dark.