Chestertown Town Council held an open meeting on October 26 to hear from the public regarding the proposed ordinance to create a human rights commission. The commission would function as a mediator for racial discrimination issues and forward these grievances to appropriate county and state human rights resources.
The meeting attracted six Chestertown area residents, the majority living in Chestertown, and three letters read for the record.
Residents Andy Scott said the commission should exist fully at the county level since a majority of Black citizens live outside the town boundary and that discrimination issues in public schools and public safety would be better addressed by a county commission.
Kent County once had a human rights commission, but it was subsequently dissolved.
Residents Rosemary Ramsey said she would like to see a town commission embraced by or related to a town human rights commission.
“If we were able to establish it (HTC) in Chestertown, that would give us the traction we needed to bring it up to the County level and if we just try to pass it off to the county without having it in town, we won’t be able to establish that, “ she said.
A letter from Nancy Mugele, Head of Kent School, questioned the role of a Human Rights Commission as a mediator for discrimination issues in businesses and offered that the mission could instead promote education to the public.
“The New York City Commission on Human Rights is charged with educating the public about the city’s Human Rights Law and encouraging positive community relations. An HRC appointed by the Chestertown Town Council, after a complete vetting process of all of its members, could be used to educate the community about human rights laws in Maryland but should not be a governing or judicial body. I believe that an independent commission reporting to the council with education as its primary mission could benefit the community by providing forums for understanding and discussion,” she wrote.
Wanda Boyer agreed with wanting to see the Town human rights commission passed first and then approach the County.
Another concern focused on the issue of privacy. Jenn Baker, co-owner of Chester River Wine and Cheese, and Welcome Home, addressed the need for confidentiality during discrimination complaint assessments.
Barbara Jorgenson referred everyone to the text of the proposed ordinance saying that—other than the interest in a county-level human rights commission—the ordinance as written, addresses many of the participant’s concerns and that during the formation of the commission, open meetings would focus.
“If you look at the text, “Coordinate activities with and utilize the resources of other public and private human rights bodies,” this is in clear recognition that we are a small town and we need to be able to tap resources whether they are regional, state or national.”
The ordinance will be considered for a vote during the council’s November 2 meeting.
This video is approximately seven minutes long. The complete meeting may be viewed here.