The Howard County Council and the chairman of the county Human Rights Commission this week put a formal end to their brief feud after they discussed their differences and promised to maintain "open lines of communication."
The commission's chairman, Thomas Hartman, met privately with Jean Toomer, the county's director of human rights, and County Council members Charles Feaga and Angela Beltram on Monday afternoon. The meeting was scheduled to discuss mutual concerns stemming from commission criticism of the council's affirmative action record and strong protests by Feaga and Beltram.
Hartman and Toomer then met with the full council at a jovial, 30 minute night meeting. Each side conceded that they had made progress.
"We shouldn't use the press to get our points across," Hartman said. "We're all adults. We can talk to one another."
"It was valuable," said council member C. Vernon Gray. "It's easy to have a silver tongue, but it's people's actions that count, and the commission reminded us of that."
A little more than a week earlier, some commission members had criticized the council for not taking a stronger and more visible stand against discrimination, focusing particularly on Feaga and Beltram's apparent resistance to the commission's suggestion that they should hire more minorities to work in the council office.
Beltram had questioned the commission's approach, and Feaga had said that there is no need for affirmative action. Hartman eventually called a truce by requesting a meeting with the council.
Despite their differing viewpoints, Hartman described his meeting with Feaga as "quite amiable. We really waxed philosophical. We tried to explain affirmative action, and he certainly listened to us. I don't think anyone changed anyone's mind, but we certainly had a broad and lengthy discussion."
At the full council meeting, Feaga said he felt "all talked out" after his private meeting with Hartman and Toomer, and he could not be reached for comment this week. Before the meeting, Feaga, a Republican from West Friendship, said he had received numerous telephone calls at his office, in agreement and disagreement, after his statements showed up in print.
Beltram, an Ellicott City Democrat, said this week that she had used her time to explain that she believes that the commission should study the affirmative action goals that are prepared for each county office by the county personnel department instead of looking at the total number of minority employes.
In the case of the council, for example, there were two black persons on a total staff of 19 working in the office at the time of the commission's inquiry. While the low representation disturbed the commission, the council had one black on its professional staff, putting it behind in its goals for professional positions by 1 percentage point, according to the personnel department.
She said that even if the council filled its two current clerical vacancies with minorities, that would not improve its professional record because the vacancies are in a job category where the council has already exceeded its goals.
"I want them to be active, but they also have to be sensitive in what they put out to the public," Beltram said. "I think they will do their job better, and I'll be watching to see what they do."
Hartman, meanwhile, conceded that the commission could have been "more precise" in how it worded its letter to the council, but he added that he still disagreed with Beltram's view.