Did Prairie Village council pull disappearing act to avoid debate on LGBTQ ordinance?

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With an anti-discrimination ordinance on the agenda, the 11th-hour decision to cancel Monday’s Prairie Village City Council meeting due to a lack of quorum raises serious concerns about the motives of some elected officials.

The cancellation denied — or at least delayed — Prairie Village residents the opportunity to have their voices heard on a proposed ordinance that would prohibit discriminating against people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer.

The proposed non-discrimination measure would fill a very real gap in state and federal law. Kansas remains one of several states that have not passed a statute explicitly protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination.

And last year, the Department of Justice rescinded Obama-era protections against discrimination based on gender identity.

Prairie Village City Administrator Wes Jordan said it is rare to call off a meeting hours before a scheduled start. He is uncertain when the council will debate the ordinance.

But a delay must not be allowed to derail this important measure. The proposed ordinance should be returned to the agenda for discussion and a vote as soon as possible.

Elected leaders in Prairie Village and other municipalities in Kansas should note that Manhattan, Roeland Park, Topeka and Lawrence already have passed their own nondiscrimination laws with varying levels of protections for LGBTQ individuals.

It was well known before Monday’s regularly scheduled Prairie Village council meeting that anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community were on the table, said James Moran, education coordinator at The Kansas City Anti-Violence Project.

Several people signed up to speak at the meeting. The last-minute cancellation sends the message to the community that their concerns are not worthy of being heard, Moran said.

“This is exacerbated by the report that the discussion of the anti-discrimination ordinance has not yet been rescheduled,” he said. “This small example is illustrative of the larger pattern by lawmakers to occasionally spout LGBTQ-affirming rhetoric while failing to protect our lives and safety when given the opportunity to be a leader in this movement.

“While we must acknowledge that no party has declared that this meeting was skipped by its members as a deliberate dismissal of the LGBTQ community or our concerns, the clear absence of value or import on this issue speaks volumes.”

Prairie Village Councilman Tucker Poling co-sponsored the ordinance. He said he was perplexed that council members Sheila Myers, Brooke Morehead, and Ted Odell didn’t announce that they would be absent until the day of the meeting.

The three did not reply to phone messages or emails left by The Star seeking comment. A day after the aborted meeting, Councilman Terrence Gallagher said he was tending to a family emergency and couldn’t attend.

Council members Andrew Wang and Dan Runion had prior engagements out of town.

“We need to hear their side of the story before we make final judgment, but it is highly unusual, and naturally I question if this is a coincidence,” Poling said of the four council members.

The disappearing acts were disrespectful to Prairie Village residents. “I’m frustrated and disappointed,” Poling said.

Councilwoman Serena Schermoly defended her colleagues and said in a statement that she was not happy some members wanted to “politicize City Hall.”

Poling, though, is undeterred.

“The many Prairie Village families in the LGBTQ community who currently lack protection likely disagree with her dismissal of this issue as politicizing City Hall,” Poling said. “If standing up for the basic rights of Prairie Village residents is politicizing the council, then I’m guilty as charged.”

Poling is right when he says that people shouldn’t be discriminated against because of who they are and who they love.

Samantha Ruggles, interim director for LGBTQ resource center Kansas City Center for Inclusion, said elected officials should reconsider their role on the council if they are hiding from issues that make them uncomfortable.

“It’s an issue of accountability,” she said.

Indeed, if any Prairie Village council members were hoping to parlay Monday’s cancellation into an indefinite delay on this issue, maybe city government isn’t for them.