When the Roeland Park anti-discrimination ordinance goes into effect Jan. 1 the city could end up paying the cost for investigating some claims.
The expense would occur if the investigation revealed insufficient evidence to move the claim forward, said Neil Shortlidge, city attorney. “In that case there is no mechanism in place for the city to be paid,” he said.
On Monday night, the Roeland Park Committee of the Whole discussed amending the ordinance to require claimants to pay the cost of investigating the anti-discrimination claim they file if insufficient evidence is found to move the claim forward. Shortlidge will prepare an amendment to the ordinance to be voted on by the council.
Shortlidge said the cost of mediation services used in settling a claim would be divided evenly between the two parties. In cases when claims are moved forward, a hearing officer would determine how the cost of the investigation and hearing services would be paid.
“As currently written, the only time the city will get paid is when the claim goes to the hearing officer,” he said. Wording for revising the ordinance will be reviewed at a future meeting.
In a related action, the committee agreed to move forward with a vote on three requests for proposals for services needed to enforce the anti-discrimination ordinance.
The city is seeking a hearing officer, investigator and mediation services on an as-needed basis to handle any anti-discrimination claims filed in the city. Each would be paid on an hourly basis.
Councilwoman Becky Fast said based on research of other cities, the hourly fee for the services would range from $200 to $250 an hour. “This won’t be cheap,” she said.
She said the average time to investigate a claim is 20 hours.
The committee discussed whether senior discount programs would become illegal under the anti-discrimination law. Shortlidge said the programs would be exempt because age is not one of the categories addressed in the ordinance.
The committee of the whole agreed additional study was needed on a proposed rule stating that any motion passed by less than the full council would be subject to another vote at a future meeting if the absent member’s vote could have affected the outcome.
That happened in the case of the anti-discrimination ordinance. Fast was absent for the vote, which failed to pass. The council voted again when Fast was present and the ordinance passed.
The committee also discussed the possibility of implementing interior rental property inspections in Roeland Park. Currently only the exterior of rental property is inspected. Shortlidge said the city should not inspect the interior of rental properties without the consent of the tenant.
Fast said interior inspections could help tenants who live in homes that are not taken care of by rental property owners. She said the city could address health and safety issues, such as sewer backup or electrical problems.
Fast wrote a memo to the city saying she conducted a study of area cities to see what inspection services they provide. Mission, Fairway and Merriam conduct interior rental inspections, she said.
She outlined the next steps for the city, including implementing a comprehensive rental housing licensing and inspection program of all rental properties in the city (280 single family and 400 multi-family units), which would include both interior and exterior inspections.
The council expressed interest in moving forward with considering the idea.