Northeast Joco

Roeland Park finally sets date to vote on non-discrimination ordinance

The Roeland Park city council has finally set a date to vote on a proposed ordinance that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity: July 21, at the Roeland Park Community Center.

Councilwomen Megan England and Jennifer Gundy introduced the ordinance, which adds protections for sexual orientation, gender identity, race, sex and military service, in employment, housing and public service, back in March. Since then the council held several public comment sessions and workshops to discuss the ordinance, and public opinion was split.

The council pushed back a vote four times, but after discussion Monday the council approved the vote for its next meeting.

At Monday’s meeting the council heard from Kansas City Councilman Jermaine Reed, who answered questions about his city’s anti-discrimination ordinance. In the 21 years it’s been in effect, Reed said, the law has been challenged only twice, and the city won both times.

Information from Kansas City City attorney William Geary that Reed provided to the council showed that Kansas City’s domestic partnership registry was challenged in 2003. In 1992 a group called Fired Up challenged the ordinance and demanded it be place in front of voters, not the City Council.

Councilwomen Becky Fast and Sheri McNeil asked Reed how much money Kansas City has spent on issues related to discrimination issues. Fast said $1.3 million is spent on human relations.

Reed told the council that Kansas City’s human relations department monitors several things besides discrimination, including helping minorities and women find work and other workplace issues. The human relations budget is a small fraction of the city’s $1.4 billion budget, he said.

Fast said she talked with Kansas City Councilwoman Jan Marcason and Mayor Pro-Tem Cindy Circo about the cost of anti-discrimination lawsuits. Those lawsuits have cost Kansas City more than $2 million since last July, and most were wrongful termination suits. So far, no lawsuit has been related to sexual orientation or gender identity.

Fast and McNeil wanted to know what a city could do to protect itself from lawsuits.

Reed said Kansas City handles employee-related lawsuits about issues like workplace injury and wrongful termination claims, but the city’s sexual orientation and gender identity clause has not been a burden.

“Nothing (in terms of the discrimination ordinance) has been a real cost to our city,” he said.

The council also discussed a human rights committee that would promote diversity and understanding in the city. The proposed committee would have 10 members, including Roeland Park residents, businesses owners and members of Equality Kansas, the Kansas Family Policy Council and the American Civil Liberties Union, or similar groups.

There was some confusion about the role of the committee. England said language in the proposal gave the impression the committee would replace the anti-discrimination ordinance. The council decided to table the matter until after the vote on the ordinance.

Public comment at the meeting was shorter than at past meetings. Only six people spoke, most of them in favor of the proposed ordinance.

Resident Maureen Reardon again expressed concern that an exception for religious organizations that hold fundraisers open to the public is not strong enough. Later attorney Todd LaSala, who was standing in for the city attorney, reinforced a previous legal opinion that the exemption did provide protection for religious and nonprofit groups.

Jim Grebe, a Roeland Park resident and veteran, said he applauded the city for including veterans and military service in the anti-discrimination ordinance.

“These days we honor our vets, but this has not always be the case,” he said, adding that vets returning from the Vietnam War were often harassed.

Former Roeland Park resident Lloyd Hellman said it was time the city passed the anti-discrimination ordinance.

“It is old fashion and wrong to vote against this,” he said.