A small crowd at city hall applauded after Saline City Council voted 6-0 Monday to approve add a non discrimination ordinance to the city code.
Saline becomes the 42nd municipality in Michigan to adopt a non discrimination ordinance. City officials say the ordinance is necessary because state and federal laws do not extend basic civil rights to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. The ordinance prohibits discrimination in employment, public accommodations. The ordinance would also require that companies contracting with the city not discriminate.
The passage marked the end of a process which went longer than anticipated when Mayor Brian Marl announced he was creating study group to draft the ordinance during his state of the city address in January of 2017.. On Monday, Marl praised the ordinance’s authors and supporters.
“The City of Saline wishes to create an atmosphere that is both inclusive and tolerant. We know that everyone wants to pursue their dreams free from intimidation or discrimination. Saline will continue to explore ways to make our community a more accepting place, where all are embraced, and where everyone knows if you work hard, play by the rules and contribute to our area, you will always be welcomed here,” Marl said.
Marl had one word for those who might suggest drafting the ordinance was an inappropriate use of city time and resources.
“Nonsense,” he said.
Marl asked several rhetorical questions.
“Is it ever the wrong time to recommit ourselves to treating each other with respect and dignity? Is it ever inappropriate to implement policy or codify in an ordinance the notion that all should be free of discrimination, in housing, employment or public accommodation?” Marl asked. “The answer, of course, is an emphatic no.”
Dean Girbach is the longest serving member of city council. He’s also the only openly gay member of council. He and Councillor Christen Mitchell served on the study group that was chaired by Mayor Pro-Tem Linda TerHaar.
He said he regretted that it took so long to pass the ordinance.
“We have so many fears that our children and young adults are facing, between being safe at school and safe everywhere else,” Girbach said. “It’s my own fault that we hadn’t done this sooner.”
TerHaar said the city’s ordinances express the community’s values.
“In our community we do not want any individual to suffer discrimination,” TerHaar said.
There were no questions or objections from council.
Five individuals rose to speak to the ordinance during public comment. Four spoke in favor and one against.
Andrea Martin is a pastor at Holy Faith Church. She said she was speaking in favor of spirit of inclusion.
“When we read the Bible, we don’t read sexual ethic or gender expression ethic. We do read a love ethic. We believe it extends to all,” Martin said.
She said thought she was speaking for the 60 households who are members of her church.
“They would be here speaking in favor of the ordinance, not in spite of their religious beliefs, but because of them.”
Saline resident Mark Hensel, who owns Hensel Kenpo Karate, also spoke in favor of the ordinance. He thanked the city leaders for drafting the ordinance.
“Saline is a welcoming place. Saline could be more inclusive. Saline could be more diverse,” Hensel said. “This ordinance goes a long way toward announcing that the city is inclusive. That people who might think otherwise might now be disabused of that idea. We’ve now put it into law. It’s now in the books. We will accept you, no matter who you are.”
Former city resident Mike Liemohn, who lives in York Township now, joined the chorus. Liemohn pointed to the Homecoming float controversy last fall and said that Saline has an image problem.
“One of the floats had its arm fall off and underneath was a black plastic bag that was the stuffing underneath. That’s all it took for the fans of the other team to start chanting ‘Saline is racist,’” Liemohn said. “Other communities see us as white, straight and closed and non discrimination ordinance will send a message to all those other communities that Saline is a welcoming place and that we have leadership from the top on that.”
Saline Township resident Janine Capsouras thanked city council for drafting the ordinance.
“It makes me feel safer and happier that Saline is going to do this. I’ve been here 18 years and it’s finally going to be a little more like home,” Capsouras said.
Sal Randazzo was the first person in three meetings to voice opposition to the ordinance. The 32-year resident of the city said that he believes the community is welcoming.
“I don’t think there’s anyone in this room who would be willing to come forward and say there’s a certain class or type of human being that they wouldn’t want in this community,” Randazzo said.
Randazzo said the ordinance was unnecessary.
“The preamble to the Declaration of Independence clearly says, ‘We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,’” Randazzo said. “These ordinances are becoming pervasive in society. We are creating classes of people. Ultimately, we are all minorities. Each one of us as an individual is a minority. We all have uniqueness.”
Randazzo went on to criticize nine different points in the ordinance.
The ordinance is complaint-based. Complaints are filed with the city manager. If the complaint alleges discrimination violates federal or state laws, the city manager would refer the complainant to the appropriate federal or state agency. If the complainant alleges discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression and the city manager determines there is merit to the allegation, the city would initiate one of several approaches, including conciliation, mediation, prosecution or termination of contracts.
Councillor Jack Ceo was absent, but he’d previously announced support for the ordinance