Friday, May 7, 2010

County Human Relations Commission holds first meeting

Posted By on Fri, May 7, 2010 at 11:35 AM

Our very own Lauren Daley was on hand for the historic -- if somewhat overlooked -- inaugural meeting of the county's Human Relations Commission yesterday. Here's her report:

Though it's just starting out, the Allegheny County Human Relations Commission has already received three complaints of alleged discrimination in the county, and has asked for a report on extending domestic partner benefits to all county employees.

The commission held its inaugural meeting yesterday -- after being created in July 2009. Hugh McGough, who chairs the HRC, describes its initial mission as being to "promote the education and persuasion of better relations in all of the county."

So far, the commission has no budget, though it receives staff support from the Human Resources and Solicitor's departments. And Kathleen Kennedy, county HR director, said her office has received three discrimination complaints via letter, and the HRC is working with the solicitor's department to form responses to them (including recommending that the alleged victim check with all outlets for complaints, like the city or state's HRC). Complaints are confidential.

"This is not a court of public record," McGough said. "This is a confidential, investigative process."

One North Side man has taken his case to the media, alleging he had to quit his job because he was taunted for being gay. But McGough said he'll take a cue from Pittsburgh's own HRC and won't discuss details in the media.

Under the ordinance, after receiving a complaint, the HRC will determine if a preliminary investigation by the county HR department is warranted. If HR investigates, the commission receives the information and can either dismiss or pursue the allegation in a formal hearing.

The commission also asked to receive a report on extending domestic partner benefits to all county employees by its June meeting. Kennedy said her department has been researching the matter and found there could be tax implications for employees.

"It raised more questions than it answered," she told the commission of her research. "There are things we need to look for more information on."

Based on that report, the commission will make a recommendation to Dan Onorato, something the county exec requested, McGough said. Commissioners seemed generally supportive of the idea.

"To me," observed commissioner Sara Davis Buss, "it's the right thing to do."

"I want to get it done right. This is our first big thing and I want to be fast but I want it to be fast, thorough and complete," said commissioner Mark Nowak.

Commission members are appointed by Onorato and approved by County Council. In addition to Nowak -- an attorney at Thorp, Reed and Armstrong with experience in the county solicitor's office -- its members are:

  • McGough an attorney, specializing in employee, municipal and criminal law.
  • Vice chair La'Tasha Mayes, a community activist and executive director of New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice.
  • Stephan Broadus, assistant to the publisher of the New Pittsburgh Courier and former member of Pittsburgh's HRC
  • Barbara Daly Danko, an adjunct political science professor and chair of the 14th Ward Democratic Party
  • Buss, attorney at Campbell and Levine LLC and board members at the Women's Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh and the Metropolitan YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh
  • Cynthia Balwdin, now general counsel to Penn State University and former judge in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and Allegheny Court of Common Pleas.

In addition to working on other administrative items, the commission set its regular meeting schedule of the first Thursday of the month at 8 a.m. in the county manager's office, conference room 1.



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