In February, Nancy Gregor stepped down from Carlisle’s Human Relations Commission, having served a full term as its chair.
The commission was formed after the December 2016 passage of a Human Relations Ordinance by the borough council.
In this week’s five questions, Gregor talks about the commission’s first four years and what she sees in its future.
Q. What drew you to apply to serve on the Human Relations Commission as one of its first members?
A. I was born and raised in Carlisle and graduated from Carlisle High School in 1963. In 1966, I moved away from Carlisle and lived in suburban Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In 1972, I moved to Baltimore with my family, graduated from law school in 1977 and practiced law for 37 years in Maryland. My ties to Carlisle continued with my parents and sister, and after my retirement, I returned in 2013 to live in the borough.
I believed that my education, legal experience and volunteer leadership, all of which gave me skills that I hoped would be useful in the commission’s work — objectivity, negotiation, problem solving and dispute resolution. I handled a wide variety of issues as a lawyer, including health law, employment and business. I acted as arbitrator and mediator in employment disputes. I also was a volunteer mediator in the Circuit Court in Baltimore City, and a volunteer for neglected children in the court’s Juvenile Division. I was president of the Women’s Law Center of Maryland and a member of the board.
I wanted to give back to the community that gave me a wonderful start and now a vibrant place to make a difference, especially with the new Human Relations Commission.
Q. What were some of the challenges the commission faced as it worked to get up and running?
A. The Carlisle Human Relations Ordinance was established on December 8, 2016, after much citizen and council discussion, and it became effective on March 1, 2017. Four commissioners, independent and nonpartisan, were sworn in by the borough council in February 2017. Initially the commissioners had staggered terms, four years for myself, three years for James Hamblin, two years for Safronia Perry and one year for McKenzie Clark. The commission met soon after the council meeting and voted for chairperson, vice-chairperson and intake commissioner. We established a schedule of monthly meetings and shortly after we received required training by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.
We did not know whether or when we might receive a complaint or complaints. Although the ordinance has an excellent roadmap, more structure needed to be applied. We wanted to be ready as quickly as possible. We created a complaint form and discrimination complaint process information sheet for public. We had a page on the borough website with access to the complaint form and information and an email address. We created forms for letters and notices for complainants and respondents to be used to be used when a complaint has been filed. We also wrote and adopted commission bylaws. Fortunately, no complaint was received until the fourth quarter. Eventually, the parties to the complaint did not seek voluntary mediation and so the commission’s authority ended. The parties and the complaint were not publicly identified, as required.
Along with the complaint processes, the commissioners act as liaisons to the public, to be aware of the ordinance and the role of the commission. We created a brochure with substantial information about the commission and the ordinance. Outreach to the community included speaking with community groups and events — Dickinson training, Juneteenth Festival, Leadership Cumberland, Cumberland Valley Rising, Black History Festival. We handed out our brochures at every occasion and they were available in the borough building. We also met with police Chief Taro Landis and discussed the mission of the commission and the process of complaints.
Although there were challenges during the first year of the commission, we got it up and running.
Q. How has the commission grown into its work over the past few years?
A. From the first meeting and four years after, each commissioner has been different, each brings knowledge and judgment, and each is available for meetings, events and community outreach.
In February 2018, Carlos Rojas-Goana was appointed to a four-year term as commissioner, and two alternates were appointed to a two-year term and a four-term. Commissioner Rojas-Goana made translations in Spanish of commission documents, including the commission brochure and materials available on the borough’s website. Vice chairperson Hamblin composed frequently asked questions for the website. Carlisle Police Chief Taro Landis designated Officer Joseph Rucinsky to serve as liaison to the commission and attend meetings.
The commission amended bylaws. It also established policies under the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act (Open Meetings Act) and Pennsylvania Right to Know Law, guaranteeing public access to public meetings, including commission meetings, and maintaining confidentiality regarding complaints, complainant and respondent. All complaints were met in executive sessions.
One complaint was filed in the second year and three complaints in the third year. Commissioner Perry was the intake commissioner. The complaints included two race/employment complaints and one complaint each of gender identity/public accommodation and disability/sexual orientation employment. Two complaints were not resolved by mediation and two others were withdrawn. No complaints were filed in 2020, likely as a result of the COVID virus. If a borough resident seeks information with the commission regarding harassment and hate crimes (areas not within the ordinance), the commission will send a letter to the resident with information to the Carlisle Police Department and to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.
The Human Rights Campaign Foundation-Municipal Equality Index rates 506 cities big and small from every state on how inclusive their laws, policies and services are of LGBTQ people. There are robust standards in the scorecard, including Non-Discrimination Laws, Municipality as Employer, Municipal Service, Law Enforcement and Leadership on LGBTQ Equality. Average scores were 60 in 2019. Carlisle Human Relations Commission had scores in 2018 of 71 and scores in 2019 and 2020 of 86. Among the 10 HRCs in Pennsylvania, Carlisle was the smallest city/borough and among the newest.
The commission continued to reach out to the Carlisle community and to find more.
Q. What would you consider to be a key accomplishment of the commission during your tenure?
A. I believe that a key was our mission under the ordinance and the work of our commissioners. The mission is worthy of reminding:
First: Discrimination by any person, employer, entity, employment agency or labor organization is prohibited in Carlisle on race, color, religious creed, ancestry, sex, national origin, handicap, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. These areas include employment, public accommodation and commercial property or housing. Parties to a complaint may choose resolution by voluntary mediation.
Second: Commissioners act as public liaisons, through public forums, participation in community fairs and events, news articles, publication of material, Commission website for information, and processing verified complaints.
Finally, we always endeavored to be better.
Q. Looking ahead, what issues do you see the commission facing in the future?
A. I believe that discrimination under the ordinance will witness more complaints generally, and more complaints particularly, regarding race and gender identity and gender expression.
The more uncertain issue is that voluntary mediation did not resolve the few complaints that we had received. The website could give more information about mediation and resolution. A new brochure regarding mediation only could be published. Commission meetings could include mediation instruction. Hopefully, more complaints may file and process with both parties agreeing. However, either party simply may choose not to mediate. Finally, the ordinance might determine that amendments are necessary. In any case, I will look forward to seeing voluntary mediation as an important tool for resolving complaints.
Email Tammie at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TammieGitt.