September 25, 2008

Twp. urged to keep human rights comm.
Middletown re-evaluating need for longstanding group
BY JAMIE ROMM Staff Writer

Earl Teasley, Carolyn Schwebel

The chairman of the Monmouth County Human Relations Commission (MCHRC) urged Middletown officials to continue the township's Human Rights Commission as a voice for an increasingly diverse community.

Earl Teasley, chairman of the MCHRC, came to the Sept. 15 Middletown Township Committee meeting to speak to the value of having a Human Rights Commission in the township.

"The Monmouth County Human Relations Commission has noted that Middletown Township, which has long had a human rights commission, is currently reevaluating the commission's role and perhaps its existence," Teasley said.

"We strongly urge you to retain the Middletown Human Rights Commission and strengthen it, so that it serves as an effective representative voice for Middletown's citizens, as they work and live together in an increasingly diverse society."

Middletown is currently re-evaluating the role of its Human Rights Commission and whether the commission should continue to exist.

Teasley said the MCHRC works with the local commissions if a situation arises.

"Since its founding almost two decades [ago], the Monmouth County Human Relations Commission has continuously encouraged the formation of municipal human relations commissions as the best way to resolve disputes and more serious conflicts," Teasley said.

"Community human relations issues are most effectively dealt with at a grassroots level, and although the county commission is occasionally involved in local concerns, our approach has always been to work with local groups," he said.

The Middletown Human Rights Commission predates the MCHRC, and recently celebrated its 40-year anniversary.

In August, Township Administrator Anthony 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.

Membership on the commission decreased to six after the Township Committee failed to reappoint Carolyn Schwebel, an 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 federal Americans with Disabilities Act as a reason for refusing to reappoint her.

The township's Human Rights Commission 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.

Schwebel and her husband, John, have been speaking at the monthly Township Committeemeetings since January, expressing their concern at the township's failure to reappoint her and the decrease in membership of the HRC.

Teasley said that a human relations commission is a viable part of any township and he commended the work done in Middletown.

"We would like to stress that an effective human relations commission needs to reflect the diversity of that area, municipality, county and state with regard to religion, ethnicity, socio-economics and other groups," Teasley said. "Such a commission must be separate from partisan, political influences as much as possible in order to have free and unfettered discussion of issues and problems. As always the Monmouth County Human Relations Commission stands ready to provide assistance in any way we can."

The township Web site lists the Human Rights Commission as an "advisory body created pursuant to state law."

It defines the HRC's mission: "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 sex."

Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger thanked Teasley and said the township is still evaluating whether to retain the HRC.

Contact Jamie Romm at