(Updated at 10:30 a.m. 8-18) Debate was at times intense.
The air conditioning at Simpson Center couldn’t keep the room comfortable.
But Bowling Green residents mostly kept their cool, city council listened, and just after 11 Monday night approved an unlawful discrimination ordinance that puts the city in a fairly unique position in Ohio with regard to the number of classes protected.
A few minutes earlier council amended the city’s fair housing ordinance to update definitions and include a long list of protected classes.
Both will go into effect 30 days after being signed.
President of Council Megan Newlove, who becomes acting mayor later today under the city charter, plans to sign the ordinances.
Mayor John B. Quinn left BG Saturday evening on vacation. Under the city charter, the president of council becomes acting mayor after 72 hours.
Municipal Administrator John Fawcett said this morning he sent a text message to Quinn informing him of the votes. Fawcett said Quinn messaged asking if there were any amendments. Fawcett gave him the answer and that was the end of the exchange.
The unlawful discrimination ordinance expands the list of protected classes and also sets forth a detailed complaint and penalty process that focuses on conciliation before moving into more formal remedies. The ordinance passed on a 6-1 vote with Fourth Ward Member Mike Frost voting no.
The amendments to the fair housing ordinance passed unanimously.
Both ordinances were amended to remove political ideology as a protected class. Council also considered eliminating the physical characteristics protection. That failed on a 2-4 vote.
The votes followed 1 hour and 40 minutes of citizen comment.
More than 60 people signed up to address council, with about 50 doing so. Council allowed each person two minutes to speak and in some cases those who planned to speak allowed others to use their time.
Protected classes now include race, color, religion, national origin, gender, gender expression, gender identity, sex, pregnancy, age, sexual orientation, creed, ancestry, disability, military status, veteran status, marital status, family status, physical characteristics, HIV-status and genetic information.
The unlawful discrimination ordinance sets forth a detailed process for handling complaints, using investigation, conciliation, a hearing, and an additional conciliation, before going to a complaint process that could lead to up to $1,000 in fines. Failure to comply at that point would be a fourth degree misdemeanor. The process also provides for judicial review or civil cause of action in extreme cases. This section is modeled after Cincinnati’s ordinance.
At-Large Member Robert McOmber said before the vote that he expects the unlawful discrimination ordinance will face a referendum.
Any referendum would have to be filed within 30 days of the time the ordinance is signed. Given that the filing deadline for the November election is Thursday at 4 p.m., it is unlikely any referendum would make the ballot until the Nov. 2010 election.
McOmber said passage Monday night would be the first step and cautioned that “the battle is not over. You will need to win the hearts and minds of the public in 2010 to make this stick. I think people can be convinced if they think it is the right thing to do. If this comes up to a public vote, I will vote for it,” he said.
When it came time to vote on the unlawful discrimination ordinance, McOmber was silent for a few seconds after his name was called and then went with the majority.
At-Large Member Larry Sorrells said he also expected a referendum. “If we can get a referendum on a third-of-an-acre rezoning at the hospital, I think we may see one on this.”
Second Ward Member John Zanfardino, said he was not so sure there would be a referendum. “An endless string of lawsuits is not going to happen.”
At-Large Member Terry Dunn suggested that when something this “groundbreaking” is approved “there are bound to be some bumps along the way. Trust the process. Council is willing to listen and will make changes if needed.”
Newlove said she had concerns about how the ordinance will function. “This is a starting point. If we need to, we can fix it to make it work better.”
Most of the crowd stuck around for the vote, which followed council working through 11 other pieces of legislation.
The Ohio House is scheduled to take up an expansion of protected classes in September. There have been conflicting reports as to whether the legislature has the votes to pass the proposal.
Front page caption: Concerned citizens attend Bowling Green city council's meeting, to discuss an unlawful discrimination law. (Aaron Carpenter/Sentinel-Tribune)