Council approves Civil Rights Commission members

Rebekah Champagne, a rental property owner and local massage therapist, interviews with the Nominating Committee on Oct. 29.

» Watch interviews by Fayetteville Government Channel

The city’s new Civil Rights Commission has its first complete roster.

City Council members on Tuesday approved a list of seven members recommended by the Nominating Committee to serve as part of the voter-approved Uniform Civil Rights Protection ordinance.

The new law 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 are exempt from the ordinance.

The council voted 6-1 to approve the selections, with only Alderman John La Tour voting against the nominees. Alderman Martin Schoppmeyer was not present at the meeting.

The commission’s roster is: Candy Clark and D’Andre Jones (two representatives of the business community); Teresa Turk and Rebekah Champagne (two owners or managers of rental property); Henderson Joseph Brown, IV (one representative with experience in human resources or employment law); Benjamin Garner Harrison, IV (one citizen-at-large); and Carol Christoffel (at least one citizen-at-large who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender).

Members are to serve three-year terms ending on Dec. 31, but some initial terms will be cut short in order to ensure turnover is staggered moving forward.

Christoffel’s term ends in 2016, Brown’s term ends in 2017, and Harrison’s term ends in 2018. Terms of the other members will be decided by drawing straws at the first commission meeting.

Alderman La Tour, who voted against the ordinance in June, said he was still opposed to the new law and criticized the process used to select nominees for the commission.

La Tour said since three of the Nominating Committee’s four City Council members voted in favor of the ordinance, there exists an “appearance of bias” in the group’s selections.

“They had every incentive to appoint people to the commission that are biased in favor of the LGBT community and against the conservative traditional marriage communities,” said La Tour.

Alderman Mark Kinion, who serves as chair of the Nominating Committee, said there is no bias in the process and added that the new members were selected using the same process as every other board, committee or commission in Fayetteville.

“There is no impropriety, period,” said Kinion. “We did the best we could with the individuals that applied and were interested in serving their community. This was an ordinance that was passed by the community and it was the Nominating Committee’s role to suggest a slate of individuals to carry out that ordinance.”

According to the ordinance, 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 has 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.