The final order has not been filed yet, and no time or place has been picked for the meeting, but over at the Office of Revenue Sharing they're gearing up for a possible first.
After almost five years of dispensing money - some $31 billion to 39,142 state and local governments, Indian tribes and Alaskan native villages - the ORS expects later this summer to hold its first administrative hearing on cutting off funds because of discrimination. The case involves Claremount, N.C., a small town north of Charlotte.
Discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex and national origin was illegal under the original 1972 revenue-sharing act. In 1976, when Congress extended the program, it strengthened the civil rights provisions and included age, religion and handicapped status.
The 1976 provisions are so strong they require the ORS to cut off funds to any recipient that discriminates with any money at all, even if it isn't revenue-sharing money, leading one of the more cynical mayors to comment that under the 1976 law, nobody is eligible for funds.
Civil rights groups and some members of Congress have complained for years that the ORS does not enforce the civil rights provisions of the law.
Only one of the 500 to 600 discrimination complaints received since 1972 has led to a fund cutoff, and that one, involving the Chicago police department, was the result of a suit filed by civil rights groups.
Some $113 million was withheld from Chicago for more than two years. The city eventually got the money because it satisfied a federal district judge that it had complied with court-ordered changes in the administration of the police department.
In most complaints, an ORS spokesman said, the agency investigates a recipient, sometimes for years and then orders corrective action. There are now six discrimination cases that have dragged on as long or longer than the two-year dispute with Claremont.
This pattern resulted in a 1975 House Judiciary subcommittee report that there was "clear and strong evidence" of widespread discrimination against minorities and women in programs funded by the ORS, and that the office responded "either ineffectively or not at all" when specific cases were brought to its attention. That report was partly responsible for the strengthening of ORS civil rights provisions last year.
There are some ironies in the case, which looks as if it will be the first to go to an administrative hearing. Claremont, N.C., is a very small town, population 900. It has only one black family that owns property, the Shufords, and the amount of money is relatively small - $25,000 in 1977 revenue-sharing funds, and nearly $87,000 paid Claremont by ORS over the past four years.
Claremont is the first case to proceed toward a hearing, agency officials said, because it is the first recipient since Chicago to deny flatly that it is guilty of discrimination and to refuse to make the changes ordered by the RSO.
The dispute between the 18 members of the Russell Shuford family and Claremont began years ago, after Shuford's father died in a fire. The family had been getting water from two wells on their property, but, according to Shuford's 70-year-old mother, firemen pumped one of them dry fighting the fire. And Shuford, now 35, asked Claremont to supply him with city water and city sewer services.
According to documents the town filed with ORS, Claremont told Shefford that if he paid a standard tap fee of 150, he was free to run his own lines and tap it into the nearest town water main some distance away.
That wasn't good enough for the Office of Revenue Sharing.
"Revenue-sharing money has been used to provide public services for the town," said a spokesman for ORS. "It's been used to finance the construction of water lines and a variety of public services, and the problem is the Shufords . . . have received no service from Claremont, and we have found that is a violation of our law."
According to the documents, Claremont at one point argued that Shuford's property was outside the town limits, an argument apparently bolstered by the fact that there is no street or road from Shuford's property to the rest of the town. The only access is a rutted trail off a country road that is outside the town borders.
But ORS didn't buy that, partly because Claremont bills Shuford for property taxes, and last year threatened to sell his land if he didn't pay.
"Shuford's got wells and he's got an outhouse and he wants public services, he doesn't want to use the wells and the outhouse . . .and he's paid his taxes," said another ORS spokesman.
While water is the big issue, ORS believes it may have grounds to file additional complaints against Claremont.
Shuford had also asked for garbage collection service, and was told, ORS said, that the town would send a truck an extra mile and a half to the end of Shuford's rutted trail if Shuford would lug his garbage out as far as the county road.
The upshot of that dispute was that the city sent men and equipment onto Shuford's property to bury a large pile of rat-infested garbage that had accumulated, according to a letter Claremont wrote to ORS.
ORS estimates it has received 500 to 600 complaints since 1972 that the civil rights provisions of the revenue-sharing act are being violated. "Quite a large number have been settled," a spokesman said, mostly by the recipient agreeing to do whatever ORS thinks is necessary to end the violation.
"We have settled quite a number by setting up some program whereby they would hire blacks, and we would set up timetables and goals," the spokesman said.
Sources within the ORS credit the Carter administration's new director of the agency, Bernadine Denning, 47, for the decision to move toward an administrative hearing for Claremont. She took over in April.
Denning, who is black and has a history of civil rights and women's rights activities in Detroit, says she received no special instructions from her boss, Treasury Secretary W. Michael Blumenthal, to emphasize what she calls the "human and civil rights" aspects of the ORS.
"I am determined to enforce all provisions of the law," she said.
For the amount of money it handles, ORS is not exactly inundated with civil rights enforcement officials. There were only two inspectors when the program began. Now there are 33 employees in the civil rights division, including secretaries, but mostly inspectors, ORS says.
As for Claremont, Mayor Wade D. Whisnant says the town's done all it can. "I know they need help," he said, "but no service has ever been refused to them. What they need is a street."
According to ORS, the town claims a street is something it cannot provide.