Discrimination Panel Battles For Existence, Permanent Home

June 30, 1991|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff writer

A panel created to fight discrimination continues to battle for its own survival, but has found a temporary home with a private agency.

Meanwhile, the County Commissioners remain undecided on whether they should formally support such a panel.

Richard D. Bucher, chairman of Carroll County's Community Relations Commission, said he and the other six volunteer members believe the commissioners' seeming lack of support for their group sends a message that discrimination isn't a problem.

Bucher said in addition to philosophical support, his panel needs a consistent address to which people can send or phone in complaints, and minimal money for postage, phone calls and fliers.

"The overriding thing is they (County Commissioners) see us as very controversial -- a political hot potato," Bucher said. "Also, the fact that we're constantly asked why a commission such as ours is needed shows a lack of awareness of how pervasive this problem is in Carroll County. It's almost as if they're living in the past."

The commission is not a part of county government. It was created in late 1989 by the Community Services Council, a coalition of human-service professionals, clergy, educators and private business.

The previous Board of Commissioners passed a resolution supporting it and provided clerical help, along with a telephone and an address for complaints. But, in January, the new board withdrew that support.

Although it has no enforcement power, the panel mediates discrimination complaints regarding age, sex, race, handicap, ethnicity, religion and marital status.

The County Commissioners saythey don't have the authority to support such a panel. Such authorization would have to come from the General Assembly, they say.

Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy has said he supports the Community Relations Commission philosophically, and might seek legislation authorizing the county to embrace it. But he said he has yet to decide whether the commission is needed.

"I wouldn't put another layer of government on this worthy goal of trying to secure human rights for everybody," Lippy said. "I'm always concerned when you have so many layers of bureaucracy trying to achieve a worthy goal."

Commissioners Donald I.Dell and Julia W. Gouge also expressed concerns about duplication, because the state Human Relations Commission also takes such complaints.

"This is just one step before the next," Gouge said of the local commission, and said it might lead someone to forgo filing a state complaint that would have enforcement power.

Most counties do havea local discrimination panel that is part of county government, Bucher said.

Bucher said that rather than duplicate work by the state Human Relations Commission, his panel provides a way for county people to resolve disputes through mediation. Two complaints last year took only a phone call to resolve, in contrast to a sometimes three-yearwait for action from the state, he said.

"When you have local people handling local problems, generally they can be resolved more quickly," said Michael Glushakow, executive assistant for operations and public safety in the governor's office.

During 1990, the Carroll Community Relations Commission heard 16 complaints. Two were race-related, one was over ethnic and religious discrimination and the rest were over access to the handicapped.

But with all of members' energies focused on surviving, and no permanent phone number or address it can publicize, the commission has not been able to take any complaints this year, Bucher said.

Wednesday, a temporary solution came when Linda Gainor, deputy director of Human Services Programs Inc., announced that her agency will take complaints at its 10 Distillery Driveoffice in Westminster, 857-2999. Staff at HSP would then refer the complaints to the Community Relations Commission.

"The HSP board felt it was appropriate: One of our missions is to serve unmet needs inthe community," said Karen Blandford, president of the board.

Aside from finding a permanent home, funding remains a problem -- members are paying their own expenses, Bucher said.

Bucher said Lippy has been the most supportive of the three commissioners.

But, he said the county's concerns over authority and liability are a "smoke screen."

"You mention discrimination or race in Carroll County and people get all upset and all perturbed," Bucher said. "It's basically the commissioners, instead of helping us, doing everything in their power to make it more difficult for us to do our job.

"Maybe they think we're going to go away. I hope we've proved them wrong," Bucher said.

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