Community Relations Commission Gets New Leader, Home

September 01, 1991|By Cindy Parr | Cindy Parr,Contributing writer

WESTMINSTER — In a continuing battle for the group's survival, a new director has taken over the reins of a volunteer panel created to fight discrimination in Carroll.

Shelley Sarsfield, 41, of Westminster was electedchairwoman by other members of the commission July 1, replacing Richard D. Bucher, who resigned that day.

The new chairwoman said she hopes that at least one of the commission's battles is over and that, temporarily at least, the organization has found a new home.

"We spent six months, from January to June 1991, fighting for our survival. We were totally out in the cold," Sarsfield said.

Members say they hope the new home, under the roofof Human Services Programs Inc., means a fresh start.

HSP agreed in late June to take complaints at its 10 Distillery Drive office andto refer them to the Community Relations Commission, after the panellost its former home in the county commissioners' office.

"(HumanServices Programs Deputy Director) Lynda Gainor was a real lifesaverfor us," Sarsfield said. "Her group gave us legitimacy we needed. Itkept us going.

"We wanted to be attached to a group or committee with an established reputation. We didn't (just) want to be a group of well-meaning citizens.

"They offered us moral and secretarial support as well as the use of their office," Sarsfield said.

"We will work now to fill the four vacant positions on our nine-member board. . . . We are not looking for problems, but we want to let people know that there is a place to go if they have a discrimination problem," she said.

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.

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

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, saying it doesn't have the authority to support such a panel.

Since January, Bucher said, the six volunteers on the commission have been paying out of their pockets for office expenses.

Sarsfield, the mother of six children, was appointed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer in January 1991 to serve a three-year term on the Carroll County Foster Care Review Board.

She helps her husband, Neil, in his fast-food franchise and volunteers atWilliam Winchester Elementary and Westminster High.

"Basically, Ihad served for 1 1/2 years and I thought it was time for some new leadership," said Bucher, 42, of Mount Airy. "I also wanted to have more time to spend with my family.

"I would have resigned earlier, but when we started to run into problems with the commissioners I was asked to stay on until our future was made clear."

Bucher, a full-time sociology professor at the New Community College of Baltimore, remains a member of the commission.

Carroll is one of only a handfulof Maryland counties without a government-supported community relations commission.

Jeff Griffith, a local attorney who was a county commisioner when the Community Relations Commission was formed, said the new location will work out well.

"It could send the message that the commission is for lower-income people. It is for everyone," he said. "No one should have to pay a private attorney to vindicate their civil rights."

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