One year after the Elizabethtown Borough Council passed a resolution promising to take greater strides toward fostering equality, one resident is asking why nothing has happened.
In the public comments at two recent borough council meetings — in May and June of this year — resident Timothy Runkle asked why a promise by council to address issues of diversity directly has not been kept.
“They passed the resolution that said some commendable things,” Runkle said. “But the one actionable commitment it made, to regularly address issues of racial justice, has not once happened.”
The resolution was first introduced at the council’s June 18, 2020, meeting, following a peaceful demonstration two weeks earlier that had brought hundreds to Elizabethtown’s downtown in support of racial justice and an end to racist policing.
Beyond recognizing historic systems of injustice and strongly supporting peaceful protest against racial injustice nationwide in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis, the resolution committed the council to include diversity issues as part of its work.
‘Nation in crisis’
In passing “A Resolution of the Borough of Elizabethtown in Response to and in Solidarity with Those Demanding Racial Justice, Equity, and Action,” the council declared that “we are a nation in crisis,” brought there by unjust systems stretching back to slavery as well as within the many institutions that “we have inherited, sustain, or created.”
Meetings where the resolution was debated were well-attended. Several residents told the council they were alarmed by the presence of armed militia members on the rooftops of downtown businesses during the June 6, 2020, demonstration, calling it “upsetting, disturbing, alarming, terrifying, and unnecessary.”
They demanded stronger language in the resolution denouncing threats of violence.
During the debate over the resolution, Council member Bill Troutman sought to add language to the resolution stating that the borough would work to prevent any groups from intimidating residents or creating a perception of violent intent.
In the end, the council chose not to address the presence of armed militia and instead included language from Troutman’s motion that supported residents’ rights to protest peacefully.
Council member Thomas Shaud objected to a line in the resolution about the documented history of racially unjust systems. “I don’t think it exists. I don’t see it. I don’t think it’s fair to put that label on them," he said, before going on to cast the lone vote against the resolution.
But most council members saw the resolution as essential. “Our world has changed,” said Council member Neil Ketchum at the time. “This is a national discussion. And this (resolution) gives us a way to say where we stand.”
The only time race came up in the year since was when Council member Jeff McCloud suggested that in the process of contracting for engineering consultant services, the borough should make sure it seeks bids from minority-owned businesses.
Nine months after it was passed, Runkle spoke at the May 5 meeting to remind council members of the resolution and challenged them to follow through on the promise it made. He noted that in the year since it was passed, no such “regular agenda items” discussing racial equity or diversity issues have been added.
“If they weren’t going to follow through, I challenged them to repeal the resolution,” Runkle said.
Additionally, Runkle said the text of the resolution was nowhere to be found on the borough’s website. “I knew that it existed, because I had read about it. But there was nowhere to find the final language.”
Runkle submitted a Right-to-Know request in order to view the document. “It’s not that I thought they were hiding anything. I just know with a (Right-to-Know request) they have to respond.”
In mid-May the borough added the resolution to its website. Following the council’s June 3 meeting, President J. Marc Hershey said that the council would not repeal or make changes to the resolution and stressed that the council remains committed to addressing issues of racial justice.
“Nothing has come up. We’ve had nothing that has come to our attention since the assembly in the square last summer,” he said of the lack of council discussion of the issue in the year since.
Agendas for meetings are set by Hershey and Borough Manager Rebecca Denlinger, usually a day or two before each meeting. “Any elected official or borough staff member can ask for an item to be discussed,” Hershey said.
Any resident can address council during public comment or speak to their council member to request attention to a matter.
“We will listen to concerns on issues of diversity on an as needed basis,” Hershey said.
At the council’s June 16 meeting, Runkle again asked about the resolution. “I thought having asked about it a month ago, they might have been prompted to add an agenda item,” he said after the meeting. “But they didn’t.”
Asked if he plans to bring up the resolution regularly at meetings, Runkle replied, “No, but I think council seriously needs to consider finding some way to listen to the public without having to wait for them to speak out. If they are indeed committed to this, it needs to happen.”