After nearly three hours of debate Monday night, Georgetown became the 13th Kentucky city to pass a fairness ordinance.
The ordinance passed on a 5-3 vote, with Tammy Lusby-Mitchell, Mark Showalter, Connie Tackett, David Lusby and Todd Stone approving it. Karen Tingle-Sames, Marvin Thompson and Polly Singer-Eardley voted against it.
Stone was widely considered the swing vote, and said he didn’t know how he was going to vote even when City Clerk Tracie Hoffman called his name.
“The big deciding factor after keeping an open mind, and listening and reading all the emails, phone calls, and to those that spoke at the council meeting. I took all that into consideration and it boiled down to this,” Stone said. “I asked myself how School Resource Officer Todd Stone would vote. That is where my values I have today came from.
“I treated everyone as fair as I could and protected everyone equally. There were no special favors. From the students I saw every day, to working accident reconstruction scenes, to kids I have dealt with as a football coach, and the different organizations I am in, that is how I’ve treated people. I always have and always thought that was the right way to do things.”
After hearing the debate, Georgetown Mayor Tom Prather said he wanted to address some of the comments that were made during the public comment portion of the meeting. He again said that a large part of the ordinance is updating the city’s human rights ordinance with state law, except the city was adding five words — sexual orientation and gender identification. Those two classes of people are not protected by state law.
“That’s why we put in on the agenda as a fairness ordinance so we weren’t hiding that,” he said. “One of the primary components the three co-sponsors (Lusby-Mitchell, Lusby and Showalter) had was to try to address what for many was the primary concern. Setting aside those that simply think that these classes don’t deserve protection, but those that worry about the impact on business. There has been a real concern by the audience and the council members who sponsored this to understand what the impact on business would be. Councilmembers have expressed concern about business owners losing religious freedom and have others’ values forced on them and that is not something they want to accomplish or the intention of ordinance.
“The clarity from court cases is real. That is not council creating it, but from the courts. Referencing the Hands-On Original case, the circuit court said clearly if you object to creating content that violates a closely held religious belief, you can refuse to do that, even under this ordinance. The court of appeals upheld that decision. That is evolving case law on this issue. We know that if you object to creating content, you can do so. If you object to serve someone, that is against this ordinance. And it should be.”
Several audience members said they believed outside groups were trying to get council to pass this, and some had even filed open records requests to see communication between councilmembers and these three outside groups.
“There are comments that this is not a council initiative but outside groups influencing our community. There was an open records request asking all councilmembers for all communications with three outside organizations that generally support fairness ordinance be reported,” Prather said. “You will be pleased to know no council members have had any contact with those organizations. To imply this is result of an outside group or agitators is simply not true.”
The only person who had had any communication with any of these groups was City Attorney Devon Golden, who was acting at Prather’s request to get statistics from the Lexington Fair Housing Commission for council, he said.
Tingle-Sames said she wanted to propose two amendments to the ordinance, but there was some confusion if the amendments would be proper, so it was decided she will propose those amendments and let them go through the required two readings.
“I’ve talked with (Chief Administrative Officer) Andrew Hartley and will be working with he and Devon on the wording of the details,” she said. “The ordinance references the state law (Freedom of Religious Expression) for protection of religion and speech. I see it as an issue of compelled expression. We as the body must adamantly protect freedom of speech and religion while acknowledging the rights of others so everyone gets protected.
“Where does one person’s right stop and another’s begins? You mentioned Hands-On, and that is why there is concern about going to Lexington (to use its Human Rights Commission to hear cases). Lexington has been relentless on taking Hands-On to court and taking them to court, and taking them to court. I disagree with interpretation and I listened to the arguments at the Supreme Court. What they are focusing on is not a product but a message. It concerns me that there isn’t language in here that protects compelled expression. Even with Hands-On, it is the message. There is confusion, and the Supreme Court hasn’t got it straight, on there is compelled message, freedom of speech and freedom of religion. That’s why so many Christians here, and some say speaking in hate, but it is a concern of where do my rights stop and yours begin. “
She wanted an amendment to take out any phrasing of using “an inter local agreement” on hearing any complaints. It has been suggested that cases in Georgetown would go to the Lexington Human Rights commission.
“They have shown how aggressive they are,” she said. “I am adamantly opposed to sending anyone before the Lexington Human Rights Commission.”
Prather said who would hear the cases has not been decided.
“I want to be clear this ordinance does not make that decision yet. That decision will be made by the city council,” he said. “Appointments are done by the city council. If done by intra-local agency, the council will make that decision. ”
Lusby and Tingle-Sames sparred over her amendments.
“As one of the three who served on committee, the paramount issue we dealt with was Hand-On. Those issues could have happened, but it is late in the ballgame to take those up now.”
Tingle-Sames said the motion to approve the fairness ordinance could be taken down and start the process over to include her amendments.
“Would you support the ordinance then?” Lusby asked. “I will support my amendments,” Tingle-Sames said.
Some speakers also said the city should wait for the Supreme Court decision so business owners can be protected against.
“One gentleman said we should have to wait so business owners can be protected and have it written in stone. As someone who has been sued by a member of his own church, they have to pay the money, write it out and anybody can sue anybody for anything,” he said. “And discrimination goes on. My wife was discriminated against in Walmart because she had a ‘back the blue’ shirt.”
Full text of the ordinance is available at www.georgetownky.gov.
Steve MCClain can be reached at email@example.com.