First, a huge THANK YOU to all of the supporters who came out to Monday’s Delta Township meeting. The room was packed with people and many of our supporters stood at the back of the room or in the hallway for over two hours just to be a part of the discussion and decision making process. There were a lot of people gathered to oppose the ordinance and our supporters’ voices and presence were needed and were felt. It cannot be said enough: THANK YOU.
And now, for the update…
Last week, we heard that a group of people opposed to the non-discrimination ordinance in Delta Township had begun to organize. They circulated a legal memo* drafted by a local firm that stoked fears that faith leaders would be silenced, churches would be forced to shutter their doors, and Christian business owners would be run out of town.
Upon arriving at the Delta Township Chamber at 5:40 p.m. the parking lot was already two-thirds full (as opposed to the normal 2-3 cars that are parked in the west lot). By 5:50 p.m., the room was full and opponents and supporters were sitting and standing elbow to elbow. Clerk Mary Clark entered the room and asked those who wished to speak to fill out a card and hand it to her at the front of the room. Within 10 minutes, the cards were gone and more were being requested.
The Board members walked through the crowded hallway and eventually filed into the room. Supervisor Ken Fletcher let the crowd know that another room had been opened up to allow for overflow where the meeting’s audio would be piped in if people wanted to sit down.
The Board, in keeping with their usual routine, moved quickly through other issues before arriving at Item X: the non-discrimination ordinance. Supervisor Fletcher introduced the topic by giving the audience a brief overview of steps the Board had taken and why the Township was pursuing the matter.
“Without state action, it is left to the local communities to protect our people from discrimination….We must treat all people with respect and dignity” – Supervisor Ken Fletcher
Supervisor Fletcher explained that the Board first discussed the issue in May and the issue had been on the agenda each month. He reviewed the ordinance’s intent: to prohibit discriminatory acts in housing, employment, and public accommodations. He also reviewed what the ordinance was not intended to do: prohibit speech, religious practices, or charity work. Supervisor Fletcher then opened the floor up for public comment.
Thirty five people delivered public comment and supporters and opponents of the ordinance were fairly even (though opponents did outnumber supporters in sheer presence). For the most part, everyone was respectful of different perspectives although there were a few individuals who used inflammatory language and took full advantage of an open floor.
The main concerns of those opposed to the ordinance were prohibition of religious beliefs and practice and a fear that the ordinance would stifle and chill speech – specifically religious speech. Conversations between supporters and opponents following the meeting seemed to clear up some of the misunderstandings surrounding the language of the ordinance. By the end of the meeting, some of the opponents seemed to support the basic principles of the ordinance but wanted to make sure that religious freedoms were not being infringed upon.
Those who supported the ordinance were diverse. There were local area pastors as well as atheists. There were high school seniors and senior citizens. Supporters of the ordinance were gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual, transgender, and cisgender. Many of those speaking in favor of the ordinance were people who worked or lived in Delta Township.
When the time came for the Board to discuss the issue, it seemed evident that the decision was going to be delayed. The Board remained supportive of the ordinance despite some reservations regarding concerns that have been raised.
Trustee Doug Kosinski reminded the Board and the public, ”Had the state seen fit to amend the ELCRA to include protections for the GLBT community we would not be here.”
Trustee Dennis Fedewa was resistant to voting on the ordinance on Monday in part because the Board welcomed the “collective wisdom” and input from the Township and in part because the Township attorney, Gordon Van Wieren, had not responded “point by point” to the Kallman memo that had been widely circulated.
Trustee Jeff Hicks read an uncharacteristically prepared statement during which he spoke to the importance of and need for the ordinance; the acknowledgment that all citizens deserve the right to be heard; and the fact that the Board has worked very hard on the issue for the past five months.
“This Board is not afraid of hard work…We’ve spent a lot of time on this.” – Trustee Jeff Hicks
The other members of the Board also stressed the hard work that they had undertaken over the past five months. Clerk Clark thanked the public for attending the meeting and speaking passionately about their feelings regarding the ordinance and asked that they remain involved in their community.
Ultimately, Trustee Hicks moved to, “Postpone adoption or implementation until such time legal opinion is rendered and board has had time to discuss and address issues.” Clerk Clark tried to amend the motion to include a specific date but was unable to get support. The Board approved the motion.
Next steps: The Board will be discussing the issue and reviewing the Township attorney’s response memo during their Committee of the Whole meeting October 14. The Board will revisit adoption during their October 21 meeting.
*The full memo can be found here: Kallman Delta Township Ordinance Analysis