Herz Halts Human Rights Commission Vote; Demands Confidential Revision Process


At the urging of Ward 2 Councilman Tom Herz, the Chestertown Council approved a 4-1 motion on Monday, Nov. 2, to delay a vote to enact a Human Rights Commission ordinance — and instead put it in the hands of a special committee of the council for an overhaul 

Herz was adamant at the Nov. 2 meeting that the ordinance had to “synch” with language in a resolution passed two months ago that committed the town to establish a Human Rights Commission.

A final draft of the ordinance has been in the hands of the council and the public for a month, and a hearing took place on Oct. 26.

The ordinance’s author, Ward 3 Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver, was taken back by Herz’s last minute concerns on the night the vote was to take place. Tolliver, the council’s only black member, was the lone vote against the measure, calling it a “delaying tactic” by Herz, who had opposed the Black Lives Matter Murals this summer.

Barbara Jorgenson,  a local attorney who has advocated for passage of the ordinance, said that Herz erred in stating that the resolution and the ordinance needed to carry the same language.

“It’s very clear that Herz has confused the purpose of a resolution and an ordinance,” Jorgenson said. “A resolution is simply a statement of intent and an ordinance makes it operational.”

Herz proposed 14 changes at the meeting that he did not share with his fellow council members beforehand. 

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll, responsible for writing up the ordinances, was irritated with Herz for bombarding the Council with his surprise, last minute changes.

The push by Herz to send the ordinance to a committee for an overhaul is on the heels of concerns he raised last week that the racial makeup of the Human Rights Commission “could be illegal.”  Herz made no mention of this at the Nov. 2 meeting and instead pivoted to moving the ordinance to a committee of at least three members of the council.

Tolliver said he had been asking Herz for copies of his proposed revisions since Monday. 

On Thursday Herz responded that he will only allow the proposed changes to be reviewed by each council member in secret at the office of local attorney, Philip W. Hoon, where Herz rents an office.

Herz put strict rules around viewing his proposed changes, which included disallowing other council members from taking hard copies out of the office.

Raising a red flag, Ingersoll sent an email to Herz on Thursday questioning the use of the law office to vet changes in the ordinance and prohibiting council members from having hard copies to take with them.

In an email to the Kent Pilot, Jorgenson recommended that council members boycott a meeting of the new committee scheduled for this Monday.

Jorgenson followed up with an email to Ward 1 Councilman David Foster and Ward 4 Councilwoman Meghan Efland imploring them to refuse to participate with Herz in a committee meeting scheduled for Monday, Nov. 9.

Tolliver told the Kent Pilot he would not participate in “backroom dealings” to alter the ordinance he authored — while being prohibited from having a copy of Herz’s changes.  

“I authored the ordinance and now I’m being told I can only look at Herz’s proposed changes behind closed doors in his office,” Tolliver lamented. “He can’t be serious.”

Tolliver responded to Herz questioning his tactics.

In a brief interview on Thursday, Ward 1 Councilman Dave Foster said he would attend Monday’s committee meeting.

“I’m not going to boycott a meeting,” Foster said. “I will reserve judgement and listen to what is said.”

 

 

 

8 comments

  1. Simply put, Councilman Herz’s latest unorthodox, outrageous attempt to coopt and control procedures and protocols for finalizing , reviewing and approving Councilman Tollivers Human Rights Comission Ordinance and Councilman Forsters corresponding refusal to condemn Mr. Herz’s action are highly unethical, and perhaps , illegal. Both Mr. Herz and Mr. Forster should be censored and denied further participation in the Ordinance review and approval process. This type of devious underhanded back-room shenanigans and apparent collusion must not be tolerated in Chestertown.

  2. Where is a citizens “oversight”committe. These open meetings need private citizens to sit in and keep the officials honest.

  3. While I am against this human rights commission (I get how the game is played…call something by a name that someone can’t possibly be against), the steps that the Councilman is taking to prevent its implementation appear to be the very type of thing for which a folk would demand a human rights commission. Didn’t a local publication once lead the state in open meetings complaints? Stand and deliver.

  4. First of all, let me say that I believe that it is most imperative that the county re-establish it’s Human Relations Committee, on which I served for some time. Having said that, I see no reason why the Chestertown Council should not pass the Human Relations Committee ordinance as presented by Councilman Tolliver and so passionately defended by Barbara Jorgenson. I believe that Herz’s actions can only be seen as delaying tactics and with previous actions on his part on racial matters do, at the very least, appear suspect. I urge the other members of Council to boicott the next meeting.

  5. Taking no sides of the issue. However I find it irresponsible for publicly elected officials to boycott discussing and voting on issues of public concern. Isn’t that their job.

  6. What the article fails to state is that the provision that was carried over, and struck previously, but then included by clerical error or on purpose, was the authority for the HRC to “investigate” (businesses, offices, individuals, etc) which opens up all sorts of liability and privacy issues. This is the issue that was the focus of discussion during the public hearing that Barbara herself even called an issue. That is an important fact that belongs in the opening paragraph. The article mixes the two – process and proposed changes.

    I know Tom to be a fair and reasonable guy, I would be curious why he is requesting in person review. Perhaps it is because many of his communications are cut and pasted and “reported on” outside of full context.

    I share Bill’s perspective that this should be done in Town Hall and not a private business. This was seen as a conflict in the passing of the BLM mural.

    1. Jenn: a clerical error that could have been fixed at the meeting, but Herz has moved for an overhaul of the ordinance. Ingersoll made clear, and a lawyer confirmed, that language above, “be it finally resolved” “falls away” and doesn’t make into the codification of the ordinance.

      There had been a public hearing on Oct. 26 and the ordinance advanced. Watch starting at 1:29:12 into the meeting on Nov. 2. The article made clear that this language had been voted on to be removed in prior meetings. If it did matter it was as simple as striking through 5 lines in a motion and passing ordinance.

  7. This all seems to be getting very childish. Elected officials must do business in the light of day, point blank. On the other hand, aren’t there still other community / town issues that need to be dealt with simultaneously? This seems to be absorbing all of our council resources here.

    Terry

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