Fayetteville city attorney prepares new civil rights ordinance | Arkansas Blog

Monday, December 15, 2014

Fayetteville city attorney prepares new civil rights ordinance

Posted By on Mon, Dec 15, 2014 at 1:32 PM

click to enlarge KIT WILLIAMS
Fayetteville City Attorney Kit Williams has drafted a new city civil rights ordinance to replace the ordinance repealed by voters in a referendum Dec. 9. The Fayetteville Flyer reports.

He said he thought it "ill-advised" to move so quickly after a hard-fought election, but he said he'd do as aldermen and the mayor requested. He said he did so with a number of concerns — one being that a revision of Code 119 might require a supermajority of aldermen for approval.

Instead, he said he tried to create a totally new ordinance that could attract broad support. To do that, he suggested not using a model from the Human Rights Campaign, as originally done, but modeled after the 21-year-old Arkansas Civil Rights Act. His ordinance adds sexual orientation to the types of discrimination prohibited. It will exempt churches. It also won't cover gender identity, because Williams said, federal case law appears to prohibit discrimination on gender identity as part of laws prohibiting gender discrimination. This would eliminate one of the key points of opposition to the ordinance, repealed in a 51.6-48.3 vote: about people using restrooms for the gender with which they identify. (To put another way, those people the Duggars are worried about already have protection of federal law to use the restroom of their choice.)

It includes the proposed ordinance. It guards against discrimination, using the state statute's language, in employment, public accommodation (defined as any place of "public resort, accommodation, assemblage or amusement"), housing, credit and other contractual transactions, and voting. There is no fine for a violation.

He wrote:

I ended the ordinance with a requirement for mediation and conciliation with a referral for a possible revocation of a person's business license for a person who will not refrain from continuing illegal discrimination. No new position of Civil Rights Administrator would be created. No new committee or commission is created by this ordinance.

Like most non development ordinances, its enforcement is statutorily left to the Mayor. "The mayor of the city shall be its chief executive officer and...it shall be his or her special duty to cause the ordinances and regulations of the city to be faithfully and constantly obeyed." The mayor can assign this task to any employee.

As a heterosexual who does not discriminate against homosexuals, I assumed there really was not a problem with discrimination against gay or lesbian people in Fayetteville before the marathon City Council meeting opened my eyes. Fayetteville is a wonderfully tolerant and accepting City, but for the rare occasions when the sting of discrimination lashes out against our gay and lesbian friends, neighbors, and co-workers, we should have a simple and straightforward ordinance that places Fayetteville on the side of equality, justice, love and inclusion. I hope the ordinance attached to this memo will unite Fayetteville in freedom and fairness."

Simple. Gay people in Fayetteville should get the same protection that women, minorities, the elderly, the disabled and religions receive under the Arkansas Civil Rights law. No church incursions. No bathroom incursions. No worries for businesses with fewer than nine employees. Surely Chamber boss Steve Clark and the various Baptist pastors meant it when they deplored discrimination, but worried about unintended consequences. The Flyer said:

Alderman Matthew Petty, the sponsor of the original Civil Rights Administration ordinance, said he questioned whether transgender residents are indeed a protected class under federal law, but called Williams’ proposal “a great framework” to begin discussion of a new anti-discrimination ordinance.

“I’m very disappointed that our original ordinance was repealed,” said Petty. “But we have to compromise.”

Petty sent an email to Mayor Lioneld Jordan last week that included a list of possible amendments to the repealed ordinance, but said Monday he agreed with Williams’ suggestion to draft a brand new law.

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