Starting in July, the Olathe City Council plans to limit public comments at its meetings for items not on the agenda to 30 minutes.
In what some say is a reaction to outbursts at the June 4 meeting from advocates of a non-discrimination ordinance, Councilman Jim Randall announced Tuesday night that the council would start enforcing the rule, originally approved in October 2003.
Randall said that the council would divide the 30 minutes evenly among all speakers signed up and suggested groups choose one person to speak on behalf of everyone on a particular cause.
Had the rule been enforced Tuesday, each of the 17 people signed up to speak would have been allowed one minute and 47 seconds. Until now, speakers have been allowed five minutes each, although many do not use the full time.
The move left a bitter taste for many of the people who came to support a potential ordinance, including Brett Hoedl, chairperson of the metro chapter of Equality Kansas, an group that aims to end discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Hoedl spoke to the council at both June meetings.
“I think it’s ridiculous. It’s just a way to limit them having to hear from their constituents,” Hoedl said Tuesday night.
“They want to say it’s about being respectful of people’s time. This is the first time they’ve implemented this since the rule’s been in place, I believe. I don’t think it does them any favors to try and shut people off. It’s just going to make people more angry than they already are.”
Hoedl, an Olathe resident, said he’s frustrated because without having an ordinance on the agenda, they can’t have a real discussion about it in a meeting.
“We’re just talking to brick walls. We go up there, say our piece, and there’s no back-and-forth. There’s no debate,” Hoedl said in the public comment section of the meeting. “We have no idea the concerns the council even has with this are, because they won’t share.”
Lisa Lero, who also spoke during the public comments, also expressed frustration.
“Why is it behind the scenes they can say it but not publicly? I’m just disappointed and heartbroken and waiting for them to be brave,” said Lero, an Olathe resident.
Lero said she reached out to all the council members by email, as suggested by Randall at the previous meeting, and got personal replies from two people but no response from the majority of the council.
Councilman Larry Campbell, who was not present for the June 4 public comments, said he supports adopting a non-discrimination ordinance.
Councilwoman Marge Vogt said she was in favor of adding it to the council’s agenda but also said, “You may see other councils get into all kinds of disagreements publicly. We do try to respect one another. And so, when we put items on the agenda such as this we are going to respect that.”
She did not say how she would vote on an ordinance.
During Hoedl’s time at the podium, Randall questioned whether Hoedl was also pursuing ordinances in the four other bigger cities in Johnson County that do not have ordinances.
Randall suggested those cities were waiting for the Supreme Court to make a move on the topic.
Hoedl said he has been talking with Overland Park and Shawnee behind the scenes, but that those cities have not told him that they’re waiting for action from the Supreme Court. Mission Hills adopted a non-discrimination ordinance this week.
After the meeting, Hoedl said that he speaks at council meetings in Olathe because he lives in the city, not because he represents Equality Kansas.
At Tuesday night’s public comments, many people shared how not having an ordinance affects them personally.
Olathe resident Kate Guimbellot said the lack of an ordinance “flies in the face” of the Declaration of Independence’s famous passage about the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
“That’s not fully true in Olathe, because I’ve been married to a woman for 28 years,” she said. “My family and I could go to a restaurant tomorrow for dinner, and I could be asked to leave.”
In a discussion outside of the public comments, Guimbellot said she received an anonymous letter at her home that said she, her wife and their 12-year-old son don’t have the right to live in their community. After she reported the letter to the police, Guimbellot said the responding officer’s reply that the letter was not OK and a corresponding temporary increase in patrols around her house made her son feel a little better.
“I cannot believe we are standing here in 2019 with people begging for their full rights,” said Olathe resident Danielle Rawlings.
During his comment, Olathe resident Matthew Calcara introduced a new petition to add a non-discrimination ordinance directly to the ballot. After giving the city a five-day response period, he plans to start gathering the 3,500 signatures necessary to make the petition successful.
“Please, if you don’t want it to be a huge campaign issue, do the right thing. Put it on the agenda. Vote on it,” Calcara said. “The citizens who are going to be voting in the upcoming election, by the way, deserve to know what your vote will be, either way.”
In other business: The council heard about a proposed design for the new fire department training center, intended to be built west of the intersection at North Hedge Lane and West Layton Drive.