At long last, Saline’s non-discrimination ordinance will head to city council for a vote.
The goal of the ordinance is to do what state and federal laws do not: To provide gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people with the same civil rights protections afforded other minorities. Mayor Brian Marl first mentioned the ordinance during his state of the city address in January of 2017. In February, the mayor struck a work group to gather information and draft an ordinance and it appeared, in October, as if passage was only a month away.
Monday night, noting the ordinance on the agenda, citizens appeared before Saline City Council to once again voice support for the measure. They included business owners and people in gay marriages.
Juliet Rogers lives in Saline with her spouse and three children. She said when she moved to Saline from Ann Arbor, she was warned that Saline wouldn’t welcome a gay couple. Her Saline friends promised her otherwise. She said she was let down by Saline Area Schools in 2010 when the district refused to change its non-discrimination ordinance to include protections for LGBT students.
“Our friends looked at us and said, ‘What did you expect when you moved to Saline?’” Rogers told council.
Rogers pulled her children from Saline schools and moved them to Emerson school. She asked city council to pass the ordinance.
“I ask you to stand tall and bring diversity, equity and inclusion into the spotlight and proactively say that Saline is a welcoming community,” Rogers said. “I hope you pass this (ordinance). For those of you in the majority, it may seem insignificant. But for those of us who are minorities in Saline – especially invisible minorities – something like this actually matters. It might be a small thing on your agenda, but it matters a lot to people like me and my family.”
Rogers said that now that the city has taken the issue up, it can’t go backwards.
“To not do it, it essentially says that we’re not (pro-diversity and inclusion). That horse is out of the barn,” she said.
Mitch Rohde, owner of Quantum Signal, was one of two business owners who spoke in favor of the ordinance.
“As owner of a tech business in the community, it’s important to me that individuals of different backgrounds feel welcome to come here, work here, play here and live here,” Rohde said. “It’s important for me to be able to recruit the best people to my organization.”
Councillors Linda TerHaar, Dean Girbach and Christen Mitchell served on the workgroup that drafted the ordinance.
“The work of drafting legislation is exacting. Transforming a clearly and firmly held goal into the language of law that will be interpreted consistently by all is a great challenge,” TerHaar said.
In October, city attorney Scott Smith presented the ordinance to council. He explained that the ordinance would offer protections in the area of housing, employment and public accommodation. It would also cover city contractors. Smith said there were also protections for gender identity and gender expression.
It’s a complaint-based ordinance – meaning that for action to be taken, someone must make a complaint. In such a situation the city manager would investigate, possibly with the help of the city attorney. If the city believed violations were committed, it could launch a civil suit. Or, in the case of a contractor, it could disqualify a contractor and demand remittance of payments already made.
Since October, the ordinance has received public comment and has been changed as a result. The city’s code review task force also reviewed the document. Councillor Janet Dillon asked for a redlined-copy of the document so she could see the amendments. TerHaar said she thought that it would be best if council members approached to document with a fresh outlook. Dillon disagreed.
“If things have been changed, they’ve been changed for a reason. I’d like to know the justification for those changes,” Dillon said.
Attorney Smith said he could provide redlined copies for council.
Dillon also asked the city to make the ordinance available online and at the front desk at city hall. Mayor Marl said he didn’t believe that would be a problem.
Councillor Girbach said the ordinance didn’t satisfy every goal he had, but he considers it a major step forward.
“It’s very important to bare in mind who far forward this ordinance puts us,” Girbach said. “I’d like to see us move forward unanimously. That’s my hope.”
Mayor Marl said that barring significant change, the ordinance will be an action item March 5.
Councillor Jack Ceo won’t be at the meeting because of a previous commitment, but he voice support for the ordinance.
“I feel it’s a step in the right direction. We must provide for the comfort and well being of all people in the community,” Ceo said.