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Royal Oak

Commission turns down human rights ordinance letter

October 9, 2013

The Royal Oak City Commission voted Oct. 7 against distributing an informational letter on the human rights ordinance that proponents said would better clarify what the ordinance would do if passed by voters Nov. 5.

The vote was 3-3. Commissioner Carlo Ginotti was absent from the meeting. Ties result in failed motions.

In September, the commission approved a resolution authorizing City Attorney David Gillam to draft an informative, unbiased letter to counter what proponents of the letter said was misinformation regarding the ordinance.

The human rights ordinance, if passed, would prohibit “discrimination based upon actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, height, weight, condition of pregnancy, marital status, physical or mental limitation, source of income, family responsibilities, sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status.”

The original resolution to come before the commission Oct. 7 called for the printing of the letter and sending it to voters via mail at the cost of approximately $13,650, according to a projection by City Manager Don Johnson.

The motion that the commission actually voted on called for the letter Gillam drafted to be posted on the city’s website.

Mayor Pro Tem David Poulton, who voted in September against Gillam writing the draft, also voted against distributing the letter through any medium.

He called it a waste of resources and a redundant action.

“This information has been on the website,” Poulton said. “It’s called the sample ballot.”

Mayor Jim Ellison and Commissioner Peggy Goodwin, who have both supported the human rights ordinance, joined Poulton in opposition to Gillam’s letter being mailed out or posted on the website.

“I don’t think it’s a good use of city funds to mail that letter out when the information is already widely circulated,” Ellison said.

Goodwin said that she really didn’t see any signs of misinformation that proponents of the letter said needed to be stymied.

“I don’t agree that there’s all this mass confusion,” Goodwin said.

Commissioner Jim Rasor, who spoke out in favor of such a letter in September, said the version presented to the commission didn’t go far enough. Instead, it simply reiterated what was to appear on the ballot.

“It really doesn’t say anything,” Rasor said.

Rasor wanted the letter to have more substance and include a section responding to frequently asked questions on the ordinance.

Gillam’s letter essentially restated the purpose of the ordinance in one paragraph and went on to explain the other initiatives that will appear on the ballot.

“I would love to have more information in that letter, but I don’t want to cross over that line into advocacy,” Rasor said.

Gillam said he wrote as much as he felt state law allowed.

“In terms of the substance of the letter itself, it cannot advocate for any issue on the ballot,” Gillam said. “That was my intention when drafting this letter; (it) was to try to keep it informative.”

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