Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Fairness ordinance advocates say it would show town's tolerant and welcoming nature, particularly to tourists

Midway needs an ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity to let the world know that it is "a very tolerant community and a very welcoming community," the city's appointed representative on the Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Human Rights Commission said at Tuesday afternoon's meeting of the city council committee considering the ordinance.

"We want people to be at home here, and we love our neighbors," Helen Rentch told the Finance, Ordinance and Policy Committee as a largely supportive crowd looked on at City Hall.

Another human-rights commission member, Marilyn Daniels of Nonesuch, added, "We also have a very active tourist trade, and this message, I think, would be very important to that industry."

L to R: Roller, Seal, Rentch.  The committee met at the city council table.
The comments came near the end of a 40-minute meeting the three-member committee had with three members of the nine-member rights commission, including Dan Brown of Nonesuch, and a former member, Peggy Carter Seal, who remains on the commission's Fairness Ordinance Subcommittee.

Most of the discussion dealt with details of the ordinance, which Seal said the commission proposed to Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift, and Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott and County Judge-Executive John Coyle on Jan. 19, Martin Luther King Day. "Your mayor chose to go ahead and take the lead," she said.

Council Member Dan Roller, the committee chair, asked what problem there might be if Midway were the only local jurisdiction to expand anti-discrimination protections beyond those in state law. Daniels, a lawyer, replied, "To the best of our knowledge, that is not a problem. . . . We are very hopeful that all three governmental bodies are going to adopt the same approach." There has been no public discussion of it at the Versailles City Council or the county fiscal court.

The rights commission has one member appointed by Midway's mayor, three by the mayor of Versailles and five by the county judge-executive, under an interlocal cooperation agreement. The Rev. Sheila Harris of Midway is one of the county-appointed members.

The commission representatives gave the council committee a copy of a proposed revision to the interlocal agreement, which could guide Midway in its drafting of the ordinance. Roller said he had not discussed it yet with Phil Moloney, the city's attorney. Council and committee member Bruce Southworth said he has many questions for Moloney.

Southworth asked why the proposed ordinance would not apply to businesses with eight or fewer employees, and whether the rights commission could act as the "fairness officer," mentioned in some such ordinances, who investigates complaints and holds hearings.

Daniels said the threshold of eight employees is in the state anti-discrimination law, which authorizes local rights commissions. Rentch said the commission could contract with the city to be the fairness officer, or the city could contract with a commission that has staff, such as the state commission or the one in Lexington.

Rentch said that when the local commission has a case that it can't resolve by mediation, it refers it to the state commission for prosecution, but it could not do that for cases involving sexual orientation or gender identity because the state law doesn't ban such discrimination. She and Daniels said 90 percent of cases are mediated and don't reach the hearing stage.

Midway would be the eighth Kentucky city with such an ordinance. Roller said he has received many calls asking him how he will vote on it, but he and Southworth said there is no way to say at this point because no ordinance has been drafted. Council Member Sarah Hicks, the other committee member, said the drafting could be influenced by a public forum on the issue, which hasn't been scheduled.

About 10 people attended the committee meeting, including Council Members Nita Kaye Gallagher and Libby Warfield, who sat in the audience.

Comments were not solicited, but most in the crowd appeared to be supportive of the ordinance. Brown said one man from Nonesuch identified himself as having ties to the Family Foundation of Kentucky, which opposes such ordinances.

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