Community Liaison Panel Says County Doesn't Care

April 07, 1991|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff writer

A new panel that mediates discrimination disputes locally has spent the last three months fighting for its survival.

Members of the year-old Carroll County Community Relations Commission say they are disappointed by a recent lack of philosophical and financial support from the County Commissioners.

Commissioners say they don't have legal authority or money to support the commission with help the county gave last year.

But at the urging of a group of human services professionals who created the commission, County Attorney Charles W. Thompson Jr. has agreed to pursue the matter .

"We've been left out in the cold, and we're too important to be left out in the cold," said Mount Airy resident Richard D. Bucher, chairman of the commission and a professor of sociologyat the New Community College of Baltimore.

"In the 1990s, to comeout and say a commission such as ours is not necessary and is a low priority is inconceivable," he said.

Commissioners contend that the state Human Relations Commission serves the same purpose as the local panel. But Bucher said his panel can more efficiently resolve disputes within Carroll and prevent state complaints and expensive, time-consuming lawsuits.

Most counties already have such commissions, Bucher said. Some have enforcement authority, but Carroll's does not. Bucher said the commission mostly relies on good faith on both sides to come to an amicable solution.

The commission heard 16 complaints in 1990, its first year. Two were race-related, one was over ethnicand religious discrimination and the rest were over access for, or discrimination against, handicapped people.

Two complaints were resolved with just one phone call each, said Shelly Sarsfield, chairwoman of the mediation committee.

The panel was created by the Community Services Council, a group of representatives from social services,clergy, business, government and education.

The previous Board ofCounty Commissioners supported the panel with a resolution and offered clerical support as well as a county phone number and address for people to send complaints.

Commissioner Vice President Elmer C. Lippy Jr. said he supports the commission philosophically, but has been advised the county doesn't have legal authority to set up such a panel. He said he would be willing to bring it up for 1992's legislative session.

"I already have my credentials for supporting the causeof minorities and civil rights," Lippy said. As mayor of Manchester,he in 1987 organized an ecumenical service conducted during a Ku Klux Klan meeting near town.

"I did rebuke the Klan at personal risk.Several threats were called to my house," Lippy said.

Since January, Bucher said, the six volunteers on the commission have been paying out of their pockets for expenses such as long-distance calls, paper and postage. Because they all are volunteers, he said, the financial support needed from the county would be "minimal."

"But I think even more than that, we need philosophical support," Bucher said. "I have not heard the three commissioners come out and support us and say, 'We need this commission.' We need that support for credibility todo the job we're entrusted to do."

"This particular board does not believe in government from cradle to grave," said Community Services Council board member and Commissioner President Donald I. Dell. "I don't believe it's the county's place to interfere between employee and employer. There's nothing there for the employer. I'm just absolutely not in favor of spending taxpayer money on this."

Bucher, however, said the commission, in an employment dispute, would be fair to both parties.

Sarsfield noted that not one of the commission's complaints has been over employment.

"I'm an employer, too," said Sarsfield, co-owner of the Burger King in Westminster. "This is not for employees to come in and ride roughshod over us."

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