Fayetteville voters approve civil rights ordinance

During the introduction of the city’s Uniform Civil Rights Protection ordinance, Alderwoman Adella Gray was joined by (from left) Chaz Allen, president of the NWA Center for Equality; Steve Clark, president of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce; Mark Martin, an attorney at the Martin Law Firm; Danielle Weatherby, Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Arkansas; Lowell Grisham, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church; Clint Schnekloth, lead pastor at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church; and Matthew Petty, Fayetteville alderman in Ward 2.

Photo: Todd Gill, Flyer staff

FAYETTEVILLE — Voters have approved a Uniform Civil Rights Protection ordinance in a special city election held Tuesday.

According to the final but unofficial results from the Washington County Election Commission, 7,666 voters (52.8 percent) cast ballots to approve the ordinance and 6,860 voters (47.2 percent) voted against.

The ordinance prohibits business owners and landlords from firing or evicting someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

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

According to the Election Commission, 14,593 residents voted in the special election. There are 49,634 registered voters in Fayetteville, making turnout for the special election about 29 percent.

By comparison, 14,580 residents voted in the Dec. 9 public referendum when voters repealed the city’s Civil Rights Administration ordinance 52 percent to 48 percent.

Unlike the previous repealed ordinance, the city attorney will not serve as the administrator of complaints. Instead, a Civil Rights Commission will be formed to review and decide complaints of alleged discrimination.

The commission will 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 will be required to present their claim in writing to the city attorney, who will inform the Civil Rights Commission that a complaint had been received.

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

The ordinance is scheduled to go into effect Nov. 7