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Olathe council packed with those on both sides of non-discrimination ordinance debate

It was standing room only at the Olathe City Council meeting Tuesday night. More than 150 people packed the room, most of them to hear the latest exchange on a potential adoption of a non-discrimination ordinance in the city.

For the first time, the council had an ordinance drafted and on the agenda as part of its planning session. Because the topic was on the agenda, the council did not enforce the 30-minute limit on public comments announced last month.

Adopting the proposed ordinance would mean it would be illegal to fire, evict or deny housing or ask someone to leave a store or restaurant solely based on that person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Violating the ordinance could result in a civil fine up to $500.

Seventeen people spoke both for and against such an ordinance. Applause for both sides showed the room was divided nearly evenly between the two options.

Opponents voiced concerns about how related lawsuits might affect the city and local businesses and expressed concern that an ordinance would discriminate against them.

“The NDO will divide our community. It purports to solve a problem, which, in fact, does not exist,” said Joann Klaassen, an Olathe resident.

Some of the fears opponents mentioned in their comments, such as transgender people using certain public bathrooms, are not addressed by the ordinance.

During her comment to the council, Olathe resident Lisa Lero said, “It’s become kind of apparent that a lot of you haven’t read it. It has nothing to do with hate crimes … nor does it have to do with free speech. That’s still fine — you can still disagree. It doesn’t ban what you can preach about, nor does it cover bathrooms.”

She shared two personal stories — one about not getting a promotion and being told directly that it was because she spoke in the workplace about being married to a woman. The other was about being denied an apartment because she would be sharing a one-bedroom space with a woman.

Several opponents to the ordinance quoted various crime statistics. Klaassen said the number of hate crimes in Olathe was lower than Kansas City and Lawrence.

“You don’t hear about all the hatred that happens,” said Robynn Andracsek, an Olathe resident. “The reason that crime statistics are low sometimes is that things don’t get reported. Discrimination that isn’t a crime — therefore isn’t a hate crime — doesn’t go into the crime statistics.”

Olathe resident Michelle Dombrosky said that she’s against the ordinance but wants read more about it.

She came to the meeting because, “I didn’t want to go off hearsay. I felt like I learned a lot from both sides.”

Council members listened to the comments but did not say anything to those who spoke.

Mayor Michael Copeland encouraged all interested residents to share their thoughts publicly on the record via OlatheConnect on the city’s website through July 30.