UPDATED: Aldermen to discuss ballot language for civil rights special election

The City Council chambers were packed tight during the final reading of a contentious anti-discrimination ordinance on Aug. 19.

Photo: Todd Gill, Flyer staff

Update: Aldermen agreed to use Williams’ suggested ballot title, which includes language that states a “For” vote is a vote for the ordinance and an “Against” vote is a vote against the ordinance.

Fayetteville aldermen will discuss Tuesday what a “For” vote should mean in the upcoming special election to uphold or repeal a controversial anti-discrimination ordinance.

City Council members approved the Civil Rights Administration ordinance in late August, but petitioners turned in enough signatures to put the law on hold and force a special election to decide the fate of the new law.

It’s now up to the City Council to decide the date of the special election, which is expected to cost the city between $20,000 and $30,000. State law requires a referendum to be held between 60 and 120 days. Since special elections must be held on the second Tuesday of the month, the civil rights vote will take place either Dec. 9 or Jan. 13.

As part of the referendum process, aldermen must also approve the title and full text of the ballot question.

Petitioners have suggested a “For” vote be used to repeal the ordinance, but Fayetteville City Attorney Kit Williams said that could be confusing to voters.

Williams said it is more straightforward and understandable for a “For” vote to actually be a vote for the ordinance and an “Against” vote to be a vote against the ordinance.

“The ballot title should follow the form prescribed by the (Arkansas) Legislature,” said Williams in a memo sent to aldermen last week.

While the state does spell out specific rules for ballot language on county ordinances, Williams said city referendums do not have their own state statute to clearly explain exactly how a ballot should read.

“I regret that this was not expressly made applicable to municipal referendum elections,” said Williams. “However, I believe that city councils are closely analogous to county quorum courts so that the same referendum procedure for their ordinances should be applicable to both local governing bodies.”

Aldermen are set to discuss the date and ballot title during the Tuesday, Oct. 7 meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m. inside City Hall room 219.

Chapter 119, Civil Rights Ordinance

Fayetteville City Council members passed a controversial anti-discrimination ordinance at around 3:45 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 20 after nearly 10 hours of public discussion and debate inside City Hall.

The ordinance prohibits business owners and landlords from unjustly firing or evicting someone because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic background, marital status or veteran status. It also creates a civil rights administrator position to receive and investigate complaints from residents who feel they are victims of those specific types of discrimination. Offenders could be fined up to $500 if it is determined they violated the ordinance.

The ordinance was approved 6-2 with council members Adella Gray, Sarah Marsh, Mark Kinion, Matthew Petty, Rhonda Adams and Alan Long voting in favor of the measure. Ward 3 aldermen Justin Tennant and Martin Schoppmeyer voted against the ordinance.

A group called Repeal 119 immediately began a petitioning campaign to stop the implementation of the ordinance, and eventually turned in enough signatures to put the new law on hold and force a Dec. 9 special election to decide the fate of the ordinance.

» Read all Flyer coverage of the civil rights ordinance