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Meeting on human rights ordinance set for Connellsville

| Saturday, March 1, 2014, 12:16 a.m.

Connellsville City Council wants to hear what the public has to say about a proposed human rights ordinance, which was presented at council's February meeting.

The city will hold a public meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday in the Porter Theater at the Connellsville Community Center to take comment on the proposal.

“We want to give the community an opportunity to give their opinions on this proposed human rights ordinance,” Connellsville Mayor Greg Lincoln said.

Last week, city residents Daniel Cocks and Paula Johnston presented council with the ordinance, which was adopted in Philadelphia in 1982 and Pittsburgh in 1997.

Cocks and Johnston said the ordinance would promote high principles of ethics, honor and respect for others.

They said the ordinance would foster a “city public policy that would include the employment, housing and educating of all individuals in accordance with their fullest capacities, regardless of actual or perceived race, color, sex, religion, ancestry, genetic information, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, familial status, marital status, age, veteran status, mental or physical disability, use of guide or support animals and/or mechanical aids.”

They said the ordinance will safeguard everyone's right to obtain and hold employment and housing without discrimination.

Under the proposed ordinance, a human rights commission could be established and appointed by City Council for a term of three years.

The commission would receive written complaints of alleged discrimination and hold a fact-finding conference, allowing for the dispute to be resolved or dismissed. If a matter were unresolved, the commission would hold a public hearing. If discrimination is found, the commission could ask the accused to cease such practices or take action the commission deems appropriate, such as imposing civil penalties.

Ted Martin, the executive director of Equality Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, will attend and speak at the public meeting on Tuesday.

Martin said the main focus of the commission is to educate the public about why discrimination is wrong.

“The hope is having the commission to prevent it (discrimination) from happening,” Martin said.

Originally from Connellsville, Martin helped to get 14 such ordinances passed in 2010 across the state. He normally attends an average of six such public meetings each year.

“I think this says good things about Connellsville,” Martin said, adding there are economic benefits to passing such an ordinance. People will want to move to the area or start a business, he believes. “It says Connellsville is looking toward the future.”

Depending on the number of people requesting to speak, Lincoln said, each speaker will have a three-minute time limit.

“Council is hoping to hear what the community has to say about this ordinance,” Lincoln said. “We then can decide after this meeting if we would like to move forward with introducing this ordinance at our next council meeting.”

“We would like to see the city of Connellsville pass this ordinance,” Cocks said, “and show the residents that everyone has a fair chance in the city to progress and show to the rest of the county and area that Connellsville is a welcoming community.”

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