Kennett Sq. enacts anti-discrimination ordinance

Packed room largely supports move by Borough Council

By Eliza Mohler, Staff Writer, The Times

Members of the Kennett Square Borough Council and Mayor Matthew Fetick stand with representatives from the Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs after the council voted unanimously to approve the proposed anti-discrimination ordinance, Monday night.

KENNETT SQUARE – Emotions ran high during Monday’s packed meeting of the Kennett Square Borough Council at Red Clay Room of Kennett Fire Company, as the council heard comments from borough residents both in support of and against the proposed anti-discrimination ordinance regarding employment, housing, and ownership of property in the borough. The council voted unanimously to approve the ordinance, and Mayor Matthew Fetick said he would sign it into law that evening.

Borough Council President Danilo Maffei opened the meeting, and the entire council was present. Immediately before the meeting, the council had held a private executive session regarding a potential land development issue.

Public comments on the anti-discrimination ordinance leaned heavily in favor of it. Brenda Mercomes read a statement from fellow resident Gail Bowden, in which she said, “In a community as diverse as Kennett Square’s, it makes sense not only to celebrate our differences, but to formally respect them through this ordinance….this ordinance makes it clear that Kennett Square officially resists a return to darker times, when America was less great precisely because it discriminated against people openly and in many cases legally solely because of their race, ethnicity, sexual preference, or gender identity. We are not going back.”

A packed house — largely in support — heard comments on the ordinance, Monday night.

Carlos Navarro said, “There is fear in our community for different reasons. We need to feel protected by the authorities. We live in difficult times, and we need to know that we have friends here, not only bosses. We came to work here. We need to have people see us as human beings, not criminals, not persons doing wrong.” Laura Gonzalez, a resident of Kennett since 1993, noted in her comments that while there have been improvements against discrimination in the borough, there is still a long way to go, and that is why she applauds the initiative and volunteered to help facilitate cross-cultural education.

Riley McGowan, a member of the local LGBTQ community and a recent graduate of Kennett Square High School, said, “Change starts at the local level, and we can’t rely on the federal government at this point in time to make sure that every citizen is protected, so I just wanted to stand with every single member of Kennett Square tonight and show that they are not only accepted but protected by the borough.” Megan Bushnell, another member of the local LGBTQ community, said, “It’s an all-inclusive ordinance. I belong to one race, which is the human race. Everybody has the right to housing, to be allowed to eat in a restaurant, to have the services of a business, to be part of a community. I don’t understand how anyone can stand against it.”

In her comments, Priscilla Roberts said that approval of the ordinance would create more work for the borough manager’s office in the event of possible lawsuits that may arise in the event of future discrimination. John Thomas said during his remarks that the ordinance is not clear enough to protect both sides. Charla Watson commented, “It’s not one group that’s discriminated against, there are all type of people that are discriminated against. It’s universal for anybody who has an issue.” She added that federal and state guidelines are already in place to cover the law, and that the council should allow those guidelines to handle making decisions on discrimination cases. Council member Wayne Braffman closed the public comments by reading a statement from Rachel Stevenson, the founder and president of the LGBT Equality Alliance, in support of the ordinance.

Council members shared their thoughts about the ordinance immediately before the vote, and their comments were translated for the attendees by a Spanish-speaking interpreter. Ethan Cramer observed that the ordinance came out of the Latino community, after the council had asked them to become more engaged over the past year. “It was an invitation to make sure that there were no barriers between Latinos and their public life,” Cramer said, and he commended the Kennett Square Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs for their work in making the ordinance happen. “But I think it’s also worth noting that this is not a Latino ordinance, that this is an ordinance that protects many people,” he added. “It also includes not discriminating on the basis of age, or using a guide dog, or religion, and there are many protected classes.”

Doug Doerfler said, “I am very supportive of this legislation and any legislation that prohibits discrimination, closes gaps on what isn’t covered under federal and state law and also ensures a more local process. This also has the potential to positively impact relations in the borough.” He added, “There’s a bigger issue here, though, and it comes from the fact that this will not solve anything relations-wise. It is prohibiting discrimination, excellent.” Doerfler concluded his remarks by noting that what comes out of the conversation about the ordinance is for people to get out of their comfort zone and be prepared to continue to have important conversations in the future. Latoya Myers added, “Words matter. Words matter tremendously because words incite action. Your words do something when they come out of your mouth.”

After a few additional comments from other council members, the ordinance was put to a vote and passed unanimously. Most of the assembled crowd of more than 100 people left the meeting after the vote, and the council moved on to discussion items, including a request from Kennett Fire Company to extend their liquor license to allow for the option of an outdoor cocktail hour for wedding receptions held at the Red Clay Room. There was also a lengthy discussion about the placement of signs in the borough.

Braffman proposed a resolution that would seek an end to gerrymandering in Pennsylvania, noting that Pennsylvania is the 10th most gerrymandered state. The resolution calls upon every elected official who represents voters in Kennett Square to publicly support and work for passage of that legislation.

“Because of gerrymandering, voters in Kennett Square really have no voice in national or state affairs,” Braffman said in a statement released prior to the meeting. “For political reasons, our congressional district is lumped in with all of Lancaster County and our state districts are dominated by towns in Delaware County. We have little in common with them and our voice is drowned out.”

After some debate among council members, it was proposed that borough solicitor Marc Jonas review Braffman’s resolution for further discussion at a future council meeting.

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