Bill on bias in delivery of food debated City panel says it can't force restaurants to serve communities

January 23, 1996|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN STAFF

The Annapolis Human Relations Commission wrestled last night with its orders from the City Council to draft recommendations to punish fast-food restaurants that won't make deliveries to certain neighborhoods.

Commission Chairman Neil Burke said the commission did not have the power to create penalties for restaurants and argued that the council was simply ridding itself of a controversial issue by ordering the commission to resolve it.

"This is a political hot potato and that's why they handed it back to us," Mr. Burke said. "We don't have the authority."

Last month, the council passed a bill ordering the Human Relations Commission, which handles complaints of racial bias in Annapolis, to draft guidelines so complaints against the restaurants can have hearings.

City residents say fastfood establishments discriminate against blacks by refusing to take orders from minority neighborhoods where crime rates are high. But drivers argue that their decisions have nothing to do with race. Rather, they fear getting hurt.

The bill urged the restaurants to serve all city neighborhoods, but also encouraged drivers to leave neighborhoods in which they felt unsafe.

Residents appear tired of watching the issue bounce between political panels.

"The night this [bill] was passed it was clearly said: 'If someone made a complaint to you all, you were supposed to make recommendations of what penalties should be imposed,' " said Robert Eades, a community activist who has been decrying food-delivery policies for the past year.

"It's just like batting the ball back and forth," he said. "Don't let it be a batting ball."

Four commission members will work Saturday to draft guidelines to determine whether delivery complaints are based on racial bias and will consider possible punishments for restaurants found to discriminate.

Mr. Burke said the commission already has anti-discrimination guidelines on its books and doubted that new ones were necessary. And he said that since the commission has no enforcement powers, it should let the Planning and Zoning Department handle the question of penalties.

But Alderman Carl Snowden, who encouraged the commission to draft the guidelines, rejected this reasoning.

"It's the commission's responsibility," he said. "It's not a difficult task at all."

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