Group seeks county support to promote racial equality


A leader of a new county group formed to promote racial equality and understanding plans to sponsor a "racial justice weekend," and asked Carroll's commissioners and mayors Thursday to publicly support the organization's mission.

"In a pro-active way, we want to promote inclusiveness, equal opportunity and love for neighbors as our community continues to grow and becomes more diverse," Gary Honeman of Carroll Citizens for Racial Equality told officials at the quarterly mayors meeting.

"Carroll citizens need to take an active role in promoting racial justice," he said.

The education and advocacy group, formed earlier this year, intends to return at the next quarterly meeting with a detailed plan for a weekend that would include a conference on racial issues and church activities that emphasize racial justice. The group wants the commissioners and municipalities to endorse the concept.

The organization, formed primarily by religious leaders, wants to broaden its membership to include county residents and leaders in business, education and human services, said Mr. Honeman, a social worker with Carroll's Youth Services Bureau.

Virginia Harrison, chairwoman of the 3-year-old county Community Relations Commission, told the officials that the citizens group has witnessed "a lot of racial incidents" and other conflicts.

She said recent racial tension in nearby Hanover, Pa., and a cross burning in Manchester show that the issue deserves attention.

Ms. Harrison, a Sykesville resident, said the Community Relations Commission plans to take a more active role in educating youths in county schools to increase understanding of discrimination and racial prejudice.

She urged the county commissioners to assign panel members as speakers and to refer problems to the Community Relations Commission when appropriate.

The Community Relations Commission, which mediates complaints of discrimination regarding race, age, sex, disability and religion, is planning an awareness week to focus attention on discrimination and race relations issues countywide. The agency also plans to assist in developing a "network of neighbors" to respond to Ku Klux Klan incidents in the county.

Carroll's minority population is about 3 percent.

In other issues discussed at the meeting:

* Robin Frazier of the Carroll Association of Realtors' Affordable Housing Committee said the 30-member group wants to meet with Carroll's eight mayors to discuss "stumbling blocks" to providing affordable housing.

A Carroll family earning the median income of about $42,333 could afford a home costing about $121,700 with a conventional mortgage, Ms. Frazier said. The average sales price for a home in Carroll is about $140,000.

"This is not necessarily low-income housing, but whether a person can own a home in Carroll County if they live and work here," she said.

The group met with the commissioners last month to discuss how zoning regulations, building codes and other factors could be modified to lower housing costs.

* Mount Airy Mayor Gerald Johnson suggested that the county should consider eliminating a provision in its forest conservation ordinance that would allow developers to pay into a fund if they can't replace trees cleared for housing and commercial projects. A common concern is that developers would choose to pay a fee rather than replant trees in accordance with state law.

The county could be overburdened with planting trees and the fund could be a "nightmare" to manage, Mr. Johnson said. He suggested that the county could withhold use and occupancy permits or use some other method to make developers comply.

The county is working with the state to change the ordinance by January.

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