LOWER MAKEFIELD >> The Board of Supervisors on March 20 sent a message to the community and to its state and federally-elected officials that hate and bigotry “have no home” in Lower Makefield.
In a unanimous vote, the five member board of supervisors, made up of four Democrats and one Republican, approved an Equality and Non-Discrimination Resolution brought to the floor by Chairman Dan Grenier.
“The news has been full of stories about hate-driven actions these last few years,” said Grenier. “Most recently we heard about the shooting at the two mosques in New Zealand, the shootings at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando, the shootings at the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin and the shootings at the church in Charleston to name just a few. In addition, the ‘Me Too’ movement has shined a light on gender inequality issues and LGBTQ+ issues have been in the news with some regularity of late as well.
“With all that said, many of our residents have understandably reached out to the board of supervisors to take steps to publicly address these issues,” said Grenier. “This was especially clear to me this past weekend when I attended and spoke at the Zubaida Foundation interfaith vigil.
Residents and visitors from all walks of life came together in what I considered to be a very moving show of support for our community members.”
The resolution, said Grenier, came about after many discussions with residents, elected officials and with the state’s Human Rights Commission, the Pennsylvania Youth Congress and state legislators.
The resolution does four thing.
First, it makes it known that the township “does not discriminate against any class of individual, including sex, race, color, age, religion, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, marital status, medical condition, veteran status or disability.”
Secondly, it directs the township manager “to develop and implement a personnel manual and associated training for township employees, which will include policies related to nondiscrimination, sexual harassment, family medical leave, military service and other similar policies as required by federal and state regulations.”
Thirdly, it “implores our federal and state elected officials to pursue legislation and policies that provide protections for all members of our community, including, but not limited to, sex, race, color, age, religion, national or ethnic origins, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, pregnancy, marital status, medical condition, veteran status or disability.”
In addition, it puts federal and state elected officials on notice that if they fail to enact legislation and policies that provide protection for all members of the community then the board of supervisors “will pursue local approaches for providing these protections to members of our community as allowed by federal and state law.”
That would include the consideration of a township ordinance that would be enforceable by the law as opposed to a resolution, which is a non-binding position on an issue.
Grenier noted that when he began researching the resolution, his first question was what policies were in place in the township related to equal employment, sexual harassment and other personnel policies.
“The rather astounding response was that LMT didn’t have any of the policies in place,” said Grenier. “It was shocking to me as I have never worked anywhere that doesn’t have very robust and clear training programs in place.”
In an update, manager Kurt Ferguson reported that the township now has a sexual harassment policy that has been signed off by its insurance carrier.
“We have training scheduled for staff, which will happen internally here on May 10. I think it’s also important for the liability of the township to include all of the employees of the pool - the young high school and college kids - planting the seed regarding what’s appropriate. That will take place in late May or the first week in June. We will have trainers coming in at no cost to the township.
“We’re also working on a broader harassment policy and a broader sexual conduct policy that will be more robust,” said Ferguson.
The resolution received the support of the four other supervisors, including Suzanne Blundi, John Lewis, Kristin Tyler and Dr. Fred Weiss.
Supervisor Blundi called the resolution “an important issue and something I am pleased that we have before us. It strikes the appropriate balance in recognizing the need to address these issues and serving as a commitment of where we stand on them.”
Supervisor Tyler added her support for the resolution and made the motion to approve the measure, which was seconded by Blundi.
“Fortunately we don’t have incidents like this in Lower Makefield, which is indeed a great place to live, but there’s absolutely no harm in putting this out there as a welcoming feeling,” said Tyler. “If this makes a few people feel better and we didn’t spend money on it, why not?”
Borrowing a line from his board colleague, Dr. Fred Weiss, Grenier confirmed “that no tax dollars were harmed in the writing of this resolution.”
Weiss joined in the support, calling the resolution “appropriate and balanced. It dove tails nicely in what is happening at the federal and state level,” he said. “And it gives us the option in the future if the state fails in its duties or the federal government that we can revisit this and think about more enforceable action.”
During public comment, resident Zachary Rubin stood to support the resolution. “Yes, we should have a local resolution. Yes, we should have state laws. But there should be a movement to expand our state Constitution to bring it up to date about all these other classes that have the potential for discrimination.”
The supervisors also heard from Yardley Borough Councilman David Bria who thanked the supervisors for considering the resolution, which he called “an important first step.”
But, he added, “There is, in my opinion, a clear need for an ordinance at the municipal level.
“We’ve been waiting a very long time for the federal government to pass the equality act and I’m hopeful to see it has so many co-sponsors in the House of Representatives,” said Bria. “But I’m also a realist and realize it’s not going to make it through the US Senate. And while I’m happy to see that the bill is again introduced in the state General Assembly, it has died in committee nearly every session for the past decade.
“Those are the ideal solutions to this problem,” continued Bria. “I’m very aware that creating a patchwork of laws from one town to the next is very much less than ideal, but it’s what we got. As a board, you are empowered to make that difference, to stand up and say no it is the law you cannot fire LGBTQ+ people because of who they are and who they love.
“I am here to ask you to consider taking that on,” said Bria. “I understand it’s a process, but I would ask you to prepare to go down that road.”