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.
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.”