The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

September 17, 2013

Commission tables ordinance on employment protection for gay, lesbian workers

Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — At best, the discussion of whether to provide employment protection to gay and lesbian Enid residents is nuanced.

What brought the ordinance to a halt during Tuesday’s Enid City Commission meeting was a disagreement between two attorneys about how the law would affect private businesses.

Assistant City Attorney Shandi Campbell said her office believes the non-discrimination ordinance would apply to most companies doing business in Enid, even though there is no mechanism for the city to penalize someone who fires a person for being gay.

Ward 3 Commissioner Ben Ezzell, who is an attorney, disagreed, calling up a paragraph in the city code that says a lack of federal and state anti-discrimination laws renders the ordinance null among private enterprises.

They both agreed on the practical effect, though, that only city of Enid employees and workers contracting with the city would fall under the provisions.

Because of the debate, two commissioners suggested rewriting the ordinance to make it clearer to understand. Both Ward 2’s Mike Stuber and Ron Janzen, of Ward 1, said they want plain language to vote on.

The Enid News & Eagle previously reported the comments of City Attorney Andrea Chism, who said the ordinance would affect private business. She did not mention that the ordinance would be impossible to enforce.

Ezzell asked to table, or postpone the decision, thereby preventing its immediate demise.

“I believe the ordinance would not have passed as written tonight. It appears that despite a certainty as to the legal effect, the cumbersome language caused some concern among Commissioner Stuber and Commissioner Jantzen,” Ezzell said after the meeting. “I am sure that the city attorney will provide adequate clarity before the next meeting and that the ordinance will pass.”

The next commission meeting is Oct. 1.

Ezzell and Ward 5 Commissioner Tammy Wilson introduced the ordinance. Enid resident Tyler Bowen said he was one of those who asked the commissioners to consider it.

“We all know we aren’t going to like everyone around us. But we all have value and we all have the right to be here,” he said during public comments.

The non-discrimination policy would hurt no one, he said.

“These are not special rights, but rather human rights,” Bowen told the commission.

Local pastor Wade Burleson asked the commission to avoid taking up the issue again.

“I do so not based upon religious faith or any bias against personal gender, but rather on the grounds of common sense and corporate freedom,” he said. “Why are we even dealing with this? Why are we not just abiding by state law?”

One of the problems, he said, was a provision protecting those based on their gender identity.

“We see it now in California. If a man comes in one day and announces that he now perceives himself to be a woman, walks into the women’s restroom, can you not fire this man for his actions? If so, are you discriminating against him?” Burleson said.

An Enid employee also stood in opposition to the ordinance. Lewis Braden said current city policies do not allow for discrimination.

“Historically speaking, I don’t think something like this is going to work out. Something that’s put on the books is something put on the books with the intention of in the future enforcing it,” he said.

In a preview of the meeting Monday, the News & Eagle quoted the executive director of the Cimarron Alliance, a statewide advocacy organization for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Scott J. Hamilton said he had provided model legislation and statistics to the Enid LGBT Coalition in an attempt to push for the city ordinance.

However, Kristi Balden, director of operations for the coalition, said her organization was not involved with the ordinance. The Enid LGBT Coalition does not get involved with political or legal issues, she said.

However, Balden did speak in support of the law Tuesday night.

“I believe it can only benefit our city if we continue to attract the best and brightest, and retain the best and brightest for city employment,” she said.

Mayor Bill Shewey and Ward 6 Commissioner David Vanhooser were not present for the meeting. Ward 4 Commissioner Rodney Timm voted against Ezzell’s tabling motion.