August 20, 2008
mulls status of Human Rights Comm.
Township Administrator Anthony Mercantante
said the township is looking into the makeup of the commission, which should
have 11 members and currently has only six members.
"We've been having discussions over the
past few months about the Human Rights Commission," Mercantante said at the
Township Committee meeting Aug. 4.
"The talk was apparently about the lack
of membership in that only six of the 11 positions are filled and there has been
difficulty in filling the positions."
Mercantante said he had sent a memo to the
Township Committee suggesting that it form a subcommittee to look at the MHRC to
determine if it is constituted properly.
"I think we could look at that to see if
the commission itself is a viable entity," Mercantante said. "If it
is, we have to look at its makeup, maybe a smaller commission if possible.
"[I] Just thought it would give us an
opportunity to take a look at the status of the Human Rights Commission, and if
the Township Committee were so inclined, to take an analytical look at the issue
and make some suggestions rather than make this an ongoing problem that has been
festering over the past few months."
Membership on the commission decreased to six
after the Township Committee failed to reappoint Carolyn Schwebel, a well-known
advocate for the disabled, to the commission for 2008. The committee cited the
fact that she is one of the plaintiffs in a legal action brought against the
township for failure to comply with requirements of the Americans with
Disabilities Act, as a reason for refusing to reappoint her.
The MHRC passed a resolution in January
requesting that all 11 seats be filled and urging the committee to reappoint
Schwebel, but no new members have been named.
In the resolution, the MHRC requested that the
Township Committee fill all 11 seats and diversify the membership of the
Schwebel and her husband, John, have been
speaking at the monthly Township Committee meetings since January, expressing
their concern at the township's failure to reappoint her and the decrease in
Carolyn Schwebel spoke at the Aug. 4 meeting
and was concerned with Mercantante's use of the word "festering," when
it came to the HRC.
"I meant it in the sense that we keep
hearing about the commission and the numbers that they have and we need to look
at it," Mercantante said. "It wasn't to be taken negatively."
Schwebel said the commission has such low
numbers because no new members have been appointed, an argument that Mercantante
"We've never had a full commission,"
Schwebel said. "It's always been at most eight or nine people, and we are
always asking for more."
Schwebel said that she never wants to see the
"We've been around for 40 years and we'll
be around for 40 more," Schwebel said. "It's an important piece in
The township Web site lists the Human Rights
Commission as an "advisory body created pursuant to state law."
It defines the MRHC mission as: "Their
purpose is to foster, through community effort or otherwise, good will,
cooperation and conciliation among the groups and elements of the citizens of
the community and to make recommendations to the Township Committee for the
development of policies and procedures in general and for programs of formal and
informal education that will aid to eliminate all types of discrimination based
on race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status,
affectional or sexual orientation, familial status, disability, nationality or
MHRC member Don Tow was at the Township
Committee meeting and said that about 20 people showed up for the commission's
special meeting held to discuss a race relations controversy that had been
posted on some local blogs.
He said that normally the meetings are
attended by commission members and a few interested parties.
"We had 20 people there," Tow said.
"Never had I seen so many people at one of our meetings.
Tow also said that the commission is an
important part of
"We meet the fourth Thursday of every
month," Tow said. "We base our discussion on what is going on in
Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger and Deputy Mayor
Pamela Brightbill agreed that a subcommittee would be a good idea, and
Committeeman Patrick Short expressed an interest in being a part of the process.
"I would like to volunteer for the
subcommittee when it comes time to discuss it," Short said. "I think
it's an important matter that deserves to be looked into."