Does Chambersburg need its own local non-discrimination ordinance?

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CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — A majority of Americans tell pollsters they believe discrimination is a problem. But whether municipalities need their own anti-discrimination ordinances? That’s more controversial.

A committee that includes three Chambersburg borough council members is meeting tonight to discuss a possible anti-discrimination ordinance. On the agenda: Carl Summerson, a hearing examiner with Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Commission.

“I was delighted to be invited,” Summerson told abc27 News ahead of the meeting.

Why would any municipality — city, township or borough — want its own ordinance on top of various federal and state laws designed to protect against discrimination?

“The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act has a list of protected categories, and there are categories that are not covered by the act,” Summerson said.

He said discrimination can impact anyone — not only members of racial, ethnic and gender minorities.

“A big one is genetic information. That’s on the horizon. That’s federally protected but not here in the state,” he said. Or a “single mother with two children applies for a position of employment and is denied that because she has a family,” he said, because discrimination on the basis of familial status is prohibited in Pennsylvania in matters of housing but not employment.

Brice Williams, a board member of the Franklin County Coalition for Progress, said “we are still seeing a great deal of discrimination here in Chambersburg” but welcomes the council committee, which includes council members Kathy Leedy, Michael Herbert and Heath Talhelm. “Thus far, I feel like what they’ve been doing has been very beneficial for the members of borough council — at least, those who are on this committee,” Williams said.

He made that distinction about those “on this committee” because another council member, Allen Coffman, was reprimanded in May by a 6-4 majority of his peers for — in their view — violating existing prohibitions on discrimination by borough leaders, employees and contractors. Their concern? Coffman’s interactions over email with a woman — Dr. Rachel Day, a dermatologist who identifies as bi-racial — who wrote to council members supporting the idea of a borough-wide non-discrimination ordinance. In her message, she included an assertion that “history has shown that rural conservative areas have fostered oppression, excluded and marginalized minority groups within their mainstream society.”

In the reply that led to the rebuke, Coffman said: “I am curious as to why you would want to move to such a conservative area such as Chambersburg.”

Coffman didn’t immediately reply Wednesday to an abc27 request for comment about the council committee and the possibility of a non-discrimination ordinance.

Previously, he told Chambersburg-based WEEO-NewsTalk 103.7 FM: “In the very opening line … of her information she sent to the borough, let me read the first sentence: ‘I would first like to make it clear that I believe in free speech and every person’s right to have their own views.’ That’s the first sentence. So why are we even having this conversation? I expressed the views that I have about this borough. That’s what called free speech. I’m sorry. That’s what it is.”

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