The Carroll County Community Relations Commission has drawn 10 complaints of discrimination on the basis of physical disability, race and ethnicity during its first 10 months.
Still, "There are people who really believe we don't have those problems in Carroll County," said Carroll County Commissioner Jeff Griffith at a panel discussion and forum the Community Relations Commission conducted Wednesday night at William Winchester Elementary School in Westminster.
About 30 people attended the forum, conducted to publicize the new commission's goal of investigating disputes over discrimination for race, gender, age, religion, physical and mental handicaps, marital status, national origin and ancestry. Such discrimination is illegal under Maryland law.
The commission cannot enforce the law, but disputes not resolved in mediation can be referred to the state Commission on Human Relations.
Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation -- such as against homosexuals -- is not illegal, but commission chairman Richard Bucher, of Mount Airy, said the new panel will try to address such discrimination as much as it can. He said that because the commission does not yet have enforcement power, it has the flexibility to include such issues.
Similar commissions in other counties do have enforcement power, said member Dale Sears, of Hampstead, and Carroll's could ask for that power in the future.
The 10 complaints so far have been mostly over lack of access and unfair business practice against people with physical handicaps, Bucher said.
Three complaints were over racial discrimination, and one was over ethnicity, he said. All are either being investigated or are in mediation, he said. The commission keeps all complaints confidential.
The County Commissioners formed the Community Relations Commission 10 months ago at the urging of the Community Services Council (then called the Human Services Council).
Carroll had been one of the few counties in the state without such a commission, Bucher said. It now has nine members, plus one vacancy. People interested in being appointed should send a letter with their reasons and qualifications to vice chairwoman Shelley Sarsfield, 693 Sunshine Way, Westminster 21157.
The panel Wednesday night was made up of community leaders who commission members think could lend insight on discrimination issues.
One member, Precious Morrison, president of the Carroll chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said she was surprised the commission had been around so long before she knew about it.
In the first 10 months, the commission spent much time organizing and researching before making a strong public outreach, Sears said.
"By no way did we mean to slight your organization or any other," Sears said.
On the panel with Morrison were Griffith; Capt. Roger Joneckis, of Westminster Police; Sylvia Canon, executive director of Human Services Programs Inc.; Kenneth Mussari, director of personnel for Carroll County Schools; and the Rev. James Hickey, director of the Northeast Social Action Program.
Few people asked questions, although fourth-grader Jennifer Leiberman, who is Sarsfield's daughter, told the panel she saw no problems at Winchester, which she attends.
"I have friends who are black . . . and they don't feel uncomfortable, and our principal is black," said Leiberman, whose principal is Patricia Dorsey, Morrison's sister.
"I find most of the problems start when you reach high school," Morrison said. "That comes from older people who usually plant that seed."
To file a complaint, people may call 857-2044, or get a form at the County Office Building, Room 300, 225 N. Center St., Westminster.