Abington to Look at Jenkintown's Anti-Discrimination Ordinance
Previous draft defeated in January 2011; resident presents alternative anti-discrimination ordinance
After more than a year of discussion, it appears that Abington will look to Jenkintown for guidance in crafting an anti-discrimination ordinance.
Such an ordinance would provide discrimination protection to a broader range of classes, notably the gay, lesbian and transgender community, as those classes are not protected under the state’s human rights act.
The township tabled a different version of the anti-discrimination ordinance late last year, and, on Wednesday night, members of the public affairs committee had two new drafts of an anti-discrimination ordinance in front of them. One of the drafts included a version that was approved by the municipalities of Jenkintown, Springfield, and Whitemarsh. The other draft was written by Glenside resident Mark Zehner, who has spoken out against such ordinances in the past.
In a February 2011 letter to the editor in the Times Chronicle, Zehner wrote:
“The biggest problem with the proposed ordinance however is conceptual — it deliberately blurs, and indeed tries to erase, any distinction between sexual orientation and sexual behavior … The message sent by the ordinance is that you are an immoral, prejudiced bigot, no better than the red-necked racists in the south during the Jim Crow era. God forbid you actually try to act on the basis of those values, for you will be branded a criminal.”
Read the Jenkintown version of the ordinance and the resident’s version of the ordinance in the PDF section of this story.
Several commissioners had a problem with the wording of Zehner’s draft ordinance because they said it gave a litany of ways “out.”
For instance, if the violator’s “actions were the result of sincerely held religious or moral beliefs,” the violator “shall not be required to pay any fine, costs, penalty, damages, or other sum of money, however denominated.
Also, according to the resident’s draft ordinance, should a complainant be denied employment, housing, commercial property or public accommodations, when there are “reasonably comparable alternative sources” of each, there would be no fine, cost or penalty.
Commissioner John Spiegelman said he respected the time Zehner put into the draft, but said, the exceptions and other clauses “completely negate” the idea of an anti-discrimination ordinance.
“I think that if you ask a lot of folks, I think a strong majority [would] be wiling to pass the Jenkintown, or even the Hatboro ordinances, without even blinking,” Spiegelman said.
He added that many residents in his ward were open to the idea of such an ordinance and that many “were stunned” that it wasn’t already state law.
Public Affairs Committee Chaiman Robert Wachter brought up the costs involved with establishing a township human relations commission -- and took heat from other board members for saying that Philadelphia County spends $2 million per year for its commission. Commissioner Les Benzak, seemingly frustrated at Wachter, said he knows of several Abington residents who will volunteer to be on the commission.
Several residents stood up to speak in favor of a township anti-discrimination ordinance, including Betty Smith.
"Other townships are having this passed, and in Jenkintown, they passed it," Smith said. "People brought up the objection about money, and they said, if I understand correctly, ‘It doesn’t matter. It’s the right thing to do.' I hope you do the right thing.”
Board of Commissioners President Carol DiJoseph said she would like to see some progress on the ordinance within a month, but said members of the committee should talk with the township’s solicitor.
“I’m hearing energy toward the Jenkintown ordinance — this is up to the [committee],” DiJoseph said. “When we have an opportunity to talk to [Solicitor] Rex [Herder], we could suggest to him to go over the Jenkintown ordinance and see how we can dovetail some of these things into it.”
The Abington Board of Commissioners voted down an anti-discrimination ordinance by a vote of 10-5 in January 2011; that ordinance was fashioned after similar ordinances already in place in Hatboro and Doylestown.