During the last few months, as the Berea City Council finally came to a vote over amendments to our anti-discrimination ordinance (AKA the fairness ordinance), I was able to attend council meetings and forums on the issue. Despite the brave "yes" votes from Virgil Burnside, Diane Kerby, and Billy Wagers, the amendments were defeated.
What I saw makes me concerned about the state of our democracy in Berea, and I think everyone should give a second thought to the workings of our council, even folks who don't support anti-discrimination when it comes to our LGBT citizens. Here's why.
During the course of the council meetings, I saw and heard the following from our council members.
- Some council members appeared either not to have fully read or understand the ordinance they were asked to vote upon. Even after multiple meetings and multiple readings of the ordinance in meetings, these members still seemed to have fundamental misconceptions about the provisions of the ordinance, especially the exceptions around public bathrooms, churches, and landlords.
- At the public forum, one council member suggested amendments to the ordinance that would contradict the state anti-discrimination laws. Even after being corrected by colleague about the impossibility of superseding state law, this council member persisted.
- At multiple meetings, a council member conveyed inaccurate information about how the city Human Rights Commission works. This council member seemed to think that the HRC, a city agency, was the same as Bereans for Fairness, a grassroots action group. The council member also seemed to think that the HRC had already investigated claims of LGBT discrimination and not found any. It doesn't; without an anti-discrimination ordinance, LGBT cases are not yet part of their investigative job. Council members should know that.
- Finally, more than one council member expressed the view that the ordinance amendments should be put to a popular vote, but that is not how local law making works. By voting for council members, the people of the city appoint those members to make laws for us. Then if we don't like how those council members work, we vote them out the next time. That's basic high school civics.
That's why, even though I'm upset that the Fairness Ordinance did not pass, I'm even more dismayed about the state of our council and our local democracy. I'm alarmed that Bereans are represented by a few individuals who have seem to have misconceptions and misunderstandings about their jobs. That's why I hope that even people who are not moved by Fairness will thoughtfully cast their votes on November 4th to make sure that we have competent representation for the next two years.