Civil rights ordinance officially added to council agenda

Aldermen discuss the proposed Uniform Civil Rights Protection Ordinance during the City Council’s agenda-setting session held Tuesday inside City Hall.

Photo: Todd Gill, Flyer staff

Fayetteville City Council members are less than a week away from formal discussions of a proposed new civil rights protection ordinance.

The new law would prohibit business owners and landlords from firing or evicting someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It would also provide protections for use of public accommodations, such as restrooms.

The proposal comes less than six months after a narrow repeal of the contentious Civil Rights Administration ordinance.

Alderwoman Adella Gray, officially introduced the proposal Tuesday during the City Council’s agenda-setting session.

“Ever since the adoption and repeal of our civil rights ordinance I’ve been thinking, and have been many citizens, how can we come together in the city of Fayetteville to announce on the record that this is a city that protects the rights of everyone and that this city does not believe in nor support any form of discrimination of any kind at any time.”

Gray said she assembled group of local lawyers and residents who worked quietly for several months to draft a new ordinance that takes into consideration all of the concerns heard during the last campaign.

“We have tried very, very hard to respond to every one of those concerns all the while keeping in mind that our number one focus is that all citizens of Fayetteville have the right to live and work free from discrimination,” Gray said.

The proposal is co-sponsored by Alderman Matthew Petty. Council members Mark Kinion and Sarah Marsh said Tuesday they’d also like to be considered co-sponsors of the ordinance.

Alderman John La Tour, who was a vocal opponent of the measure during his campaign for election to the City Council last fall, suggested sending the ordinance to the council’s Ordinance Review Committee before a final vote is taken.

“I want to have an appearance of propriety for those people in our community who may be opposed to this ordinance,” said La Tour. “I think the people of Fayetteville would like to see that happen and I think we can find evidence of that in the repeal vote where it passed by a 52 to 48 percent margin.”

The Ordinance Review Committee is a working group that has helped develop proposals that are controversial or that have had multiple requests for amendments beyond what is typical at a regular City Council meeting. The group is comprised of one alderman from each of the city’s four wards.

City Attorney Kit Williams said the committee may discuss any proposed new laws, but their meetings can only be scheduled by the current chair – in this case, that is Alderman Justin Tennant. Tennant is out of the country, and was absent during Tuesday’s agenda session.

Alderwoman Marsh said she wasn’t sure the proposal should be sent to the committee.

“It seems like this ordinance was already drafted considering a lot of public comment, and after extensive debate of the previous ordinance,” said Marsh. “I feel like this whole process we’ve been through is, in a sense, an ordinance review committee.”

Alderman Petty said he wasn’t categorically opposed to a review by the committee, but said he’d like to see what types of amendments Alderman La Tour would suggest the committee consider before a meeting is scheduled.

La Tour said he has ideas for amendments that he plans to introduce during the first reading of the ordinance on June 16 at 5:30 p.m. inside Fayetteville City Hall.

Mayor Lioneld Jordan said he anticipates another large turnout from residents who will want to speak about the proposal. He said he wanted to lay rest to a rumor that public comment would not be allowed.

“I’m going to tell you right now that’s simply not true,” said Jordan. “I always have public comment at any meeting I chair and anyone who knows me knows that I am a strong believer in public comment.”

Jordan said he plans to limit individual comments to three minutes to ensure everyone has an opportunity to speak.

Jordan set the same rule at the Aug. 19-20 meeting after several residents spoke for nearly 20 minutes each. Residents filled the council chambers that night, and were lined up through the halls of the City Administration Building and down the sidewalks waiting for a chance to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting, which lasted nearly 10 hours.

Uniform Civil Rights Protection Ordinance

The Uniform Civil Rights Protection Ordinance was proposed by Alderwoman Adella Gray and Alderman Matthew Petty to replace the Civil Rights Administration Ordinance, which was adopted in August 2014 and narrowly repealed by voters in December.

The new law would prohibit business owners and landlords from firing or evicting someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It would also provide protections for use of public accommodations, such as restrooms.

If passed, the ordinance would not go into effect unless voters approve the measure in a special election to be held Sept. 8.

Churches, religious schools and daycare facilities, and religious organizations of any kind would be exempt from the new law.

Unlike the previous civil rights ordinance that was approved by aldermen and then later repealed, the city attorney would not serve as the administrator of complaints. Instead, a Civil Rights Commission would be formed to review and decide complaints of alleged discrimination.

The commission would consist of seven members: two representatives of the business community; two owners or managers of rental property; one representative with experience in human resources or employment law; and two citizens at large, at least one of whom identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

Anyone asserting a claim of discrimination would be required to present their claim in writing to the city attorney, who would inform the Civil Rights Commission that a complaint had been received.

Informal and confidential mediation would be attempted by the city before any other enforcement measures could begin. If mediation fails, the commission would schedule a hearing to review the complaint and receive evidence. If the commission determines that discrimination had occurred, the violator would be fined up to $100 for the first offense. Subsequent violations would carry the city’s general penalty which calls for fines of up to $500. A violation would not be considered a misdemeanor or felony.

» Read all Flyer coverage of the civil rights ordinance