Sponsors of a proposed Prairie Village anti-discrimination ordinance were disappointed and frustrated that a scheduled debate Monday night was canceled due to lack of a city council quorum.
But they also vow to keep pushing forward with the measure at another public hearing, most likely in October, to provide protections for those in the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups.
A Prairie Village council quorum requires eight of 12 members (not counting the mayor). But six council members indicated they would be absent Monday night. Two council members were out of town and a third had a family emergency. Three others alerted the city administrator Monday afternoon that they couldn’t attend.
“It was just very unusual to have a large number of cancellations on the afternoon of the council meeting,” said Councilman Tucker Poling, one of two sponsors of the proposed anti-discrimination ordinance. “It was very disappointing because there were a lot of residents planning to come and speak and be heard.”
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Poling learned of the cancellation late in the day as he was heading to a business to make copies of materials for that night’s discussion. Instead he had to pull over and start texting people who had planned to testify.
“It struck me as very odd,” he said. “I don’t think we showed much respect for our residents’ time.”
Kaitlin Vaughn, a 29-year-old who said she and her wife love living in Prairie Village, had planned to testify in favor of the ordinance Monday. She told The Star she was frustrated by the 11th-hour cancellation.
“I think it was pretty frustrating,” she said, adding that it’s council members’ responsibility to attend meetings if at all possible.
The other co-sponsor, Chad Herring, called the delay “unfortunate” but said he and Poling are determined to pursue their ordinance, which would ensure protections for LBGTQ individuals who are not currently protected by Kansas or federal law. He said other northeast Johnson County cities are also looking at these protections, and he wants Prairie Village to be a leader in that cause.
Mayor Laura Wassmer said it’s not unheard of for the city council to end up without a quorum late in the day. She didn’t see anything suspicious in what happened, nor did she believe council members were trying to duck out of considering the issue.
“It was unfortunate timing,” she said, adding that it doesn’t in any way derail the proposal, which will be heard at an upcoming meeting.
Wassmer said she knew ahead of time that Dan Runion and Andrew Wang would be out of town. She said Terrence Gallagher had a family medical issue to handle.
City Administrator Wes Jordan said he got a text at 1:48 p.m. from Councilman Ted Odell that he couldn’t attend. Councilwoman Sheila Myers sent an email at 2:34 p.m. saying something had come up and she couldn’t make it. Councilwoman Brooke Morehead sent an email at 3:16 p.m. that a family matter would keep her from attending. The Star could not reach Odell, Myers and Morehead.
Serena Schermoly, who is running for mayor and had planned to attend Monday night’s meeting, defended those who missed the meeting and said she was sure they had legitimate reasons for their absences. She said she had personally heard from several of them prior to the weekend that they would not be able to attend Monday’s meeting.
Schermoly also said her council colleagues have made clear that they support protecting the rights of all individuals in Prairie Village.
The ordinance is modeled on laws passed in Roeland Park in 2014 and in Manhattan, Kan., in 2015. Poling said he has heard from numerous Prairie Village residents wanting to assure that Prairie Village prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, disability or marital, familial or veteran status.
He said gay and transgender individuals are not protected against discrimination by Kansas or federal law and he wants to make sure they are protected in Prairie Village. He has received emails in support of such a measure from several individuals, as well as from the Northeast Chamber of Commerce, the Mid-America Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, Asbury United Methodist and Colonial churches in Prairie Village and the Mainstream Coalition.
Monday night’s meeting was intended to be a council “committee of the whole” discussion and would have allowed public testimony but would not have included a vote.
The next city council meeting is currently scheduled Oct. 1. That meeting is likely to be dominated by a discussion about neighborhood housing design guidelines, which wouldn’t allow much time for other topics.
Poling said the discussion on the non-discrimination ordinance is likely to be scheduled after that. If the council “committee of the whole” advances the measure for a council vote, that would require another meeting and time for more public testimony.