Roeland Park’s revote on anti-bias measure may not be the last word

08/05/2014 4:52 PM

08/05/2014 4:53 PM

On Monday, Roeland Park banned discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in a revote, but the conversation is not over.

Mayor Joel Marquardt broke the City Council’s 4-4 tie with a vote in favor of a law that adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the city’s protected classes. The law also includes protections for race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin, ancestry and military status. Sexual orientation and gender identity are protected classes in only one other Kansas city, Lawrence.

Sandra Meade, state chairwoman of the LGBT advocacy group Equality Kansas, said her organization has had conversations with three other cities in metro area, but she wouldn’t say which ones. Now that Roeland Park has passed a law she said she is hopeful a third will follow.

“For me, any city is open,” she said, adding that the group would be mindful of other issues, like budgets and elections, a city might be dealing with before proposing a law.

In Merriam, Councilman Al Frisby said he would take the lead on introducing a similar law. Frisby had brought the subject up in Merriam in the past, but decided to wait for Roeland Park to act. Now that Roeland Park passed an ordinance, he said he would study the ordinance with Merriam’s city attorney before introducing something to the council.

Frisby said police records show no discrimination in the last three years, but that does not deter him from supporting an anti-bias ordinance. The city needs to adapt to changing times, he said.

“It’s not about the number of people discriminated against in the past, it’s about the probability of it in the future,” Frisby said.

Other cities in Johnson County, such as Lenexa, Shawnee, Olathe and Prairie Village, have not had discussions about discrimination bans.

In Roeland Park, the discussion, which began in March, may not be over. There has been strong interest in starting a petition to place the ordinance on a public ballot. Similar laws passed in Salina and Hutchinson were later overturned after a petition placed them on a public ballot.

For that to happen in Roeland Park, the opposition would have to gather signatures from 40 percent of the registered voters who voted in the last election, or about 472 names. Those names would be verified and the council would have to vote within 20 days of receiving the petition. If the council does not vote, a special election would be held, which would cost the city about $12,000.

In June Councilman Gliniecki proposed a resolution that calls for the creation of a human relations committee. The proposal would establish a 10-member committee, which would include Roeland Park residents, businesses owners and members of Equality Kansas, Kansas Family Policy Council and American Civil Liberties Union, or similar groups. The committee would plan events centered on equality and diversity.

The idea of a resolution and committee drew criticism because neither would have the legal backing to stop discrimination the same way an ordinance would. Now that the ordinance has passed, Gliniecki said he plans to study how a committee or resolution could work with the law before he presents it to the council.

“It’s probably going to be later rather than sooner, but it’s something I still want to work on,” he said.

Passage of the anti-discrimination law came after the council voted it down 4-3 on July 21.

A call to revote on the matter Monday came from residents who wanted to hear from Councilwoman Becky Fast. Fast was involved in a car accident and was absent from the first vote.

Marquardt said he heard from several residents and decided the matter deserved reconsideration. During discussion about the revote, he said he should have called the vote off in the first place so Fast could be there. He apologized.

“That was an oversight by myself,” he said.

Council President Gliniecki, who voted against the law both times, endorsed a new vote, adding that it is not uncommon for cities to revote on contentious matters.

“Otherwise there will be a cloud hanging over this council,” he said.

Theresa Kelly, who voted in favor twice, echoed Gliniecki and said important decisions, like this ordinance, deserve a full council.

“It’s important to hear from the eighth council member,” she said after the meeting.

Not everyone on council agreed. Sheri McNeil, who voted against the measure twice, said she thought the council’s first vote should be the final vote.

Michael Rhoades told the council it was time to move on to other issues. Rhoades, who also voted against the law twice, said the council’s first vote was legal, and taking a revote would set a poor precedent.

“Whether a council member agrees or disagrees is irrelevant,” he said.

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