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February 6, 2013

Commission passes first reading of proposed human rights ordinance

March 4 vote could sign ordinance into local law

By Chris Jackett
C & G Staff Writer

ROYAL OAK — The City Commission’s first reading of a proposed human rights ordinance passed 6-1 Jan. 28, but the commission will hold off on a second reading that would sign it into law until March 4 to study it and make a few clarifying changes.

The intentionally broad ordinance is modeled after the one Ann Arbor uses to prohibit “discrimination based on actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, height, weight, condition of pregnancy, martial status, physical or mental limitation, source of income, family responsibilities, sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status,” according to a memo from City Attorney David Gillam.

The Royal Oak Police Department would be charged with investigating any complaints, which, if someone was found guilty of violating the civil infraction, could result in a fine of up to $500, plus the costs of investigation and prosecution.

“I think this is a very proud moment in the history of Royal Oak,” Commissioner Jim Rasor said. “This kind of discrimination happens every day.”

Commissioner David Poulton was the lone dissenting vote last week, but only because he thought the words would have been more efficient as a resolution than an ordinance.

“I suggest a resolution would do that also,” Poulton said. “I believe we enact an ordinance when there’s a problem we need to address. I think what’s important is to publicly reaffirm what Royal Oak’s about.”

There were several areas in the six-page ordinance that drew questions from various commissioners, ranging from issues with inaccurate real estate signs on lawns to discriminatory housing and employment practices. Rather than pass the second reading at the next meeting, which was seven days later on Feb. 4, Mayor Pro Tem Patricia Capello suggested holding off on the second vote for 30 days.

“I don’t want to vote on an ordinance I don’t understand,” Mayor Pro Tem Patricia Capello said. “For me, the devil’s in the details.”

Had the ordinance been approved on its second reading Feb. 4, it would’ve gone into effect 10 days later on Valentine’s Day. Now, if approved March 4, the ordinance would go into effect just three days before St. Patrick’s Day.

Shot down by 67.36 percent of voters (8,864 people) in 2001, those speaking during public comment last week had mixed emotions. Five speakers supported it with nods to two other nearby supporters, one opposed it and another speaker suggested it be put on a ballot like the recent millage.

“You don’t choose what race you are and you can’t hide it,” said Pat Wall, who opposed the ordinance with both race and religious arguments. “You can’t keep it to yourself the way you can with your gender identification. To lump that with race seems to say that that is a correct and acceptable way to live when it’s not right.

“It hurts the fiber of families. It destroys families and it sets children up to be victims in the future when someone tells them sodomy is an act of love and not an act of power and control, which it is. I want you to ask, ‘What would Jesus say about sodomy?’”

Although Commissioner Kyle DuBuc noted that portions of the ordinance language being questioned are already either state or federal law, he and Gillam both referred to the ordinance as not exactly rewriting the book. Other cities with similar ordinances in the books include East Lansing, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Saginaw, Ypsilanti, Birmingham, Traverse City and others. Rasor also noted that 89 percent of Fortune 500 companies have similar non-discrimination policies.

“I absolutely think this is the right thing to do,” said Commissioner Michael Fournier, who noted he did not want the ordinance to sit in “a situation of perpetual pause” by continually holding off on a second vote. “To me, the intent is clear with this ordinance.”

Mayor Jim Ellison granted the 30-day window for residents and commissioners alike to have more time to review the ordinance before taking the second vote March 4.

“This is probably one of the most important ordinance actions this (commission) has been burdened with in many years,” Ellison said.

To view the full discussion, visit www.ci.royal-oak.mi.us.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Chris Jackett at cjackett@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1110.