The City of Saline moved closer to adopting a non-discrimination ordinance at Monday’s meeting.
Buoyed by vocal public support at the onset of the city council work session, city council members and the city attorney went over the purpose of the ordinance and explained how it might work.
Mayor Brian Marl, who struck a work group to study the issue, said he hoped some variation of the ordinance would be ready for city council approval by November.
“I’m keenly aware that successful communities establish and maintain standards so that all citizens feel welcome and supported as long as they play by the rules, work hard and contribute to the community,” Marl said.
Mayor Pro-Tem Linda TerHaar and City Councillors Dean Girbach and Christen Mitchell served on the group that worked on the ordinance.
“We want to be clear that discrimination is not welcome in our community and we need to reflect that value in city ordinances,” TerHaar said. “Federal and state laws cover many aspects of discrimination, but they are incomplete.
City Attorney Scott Smith explained that federal and state laws do not protect people from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
The ordinance generally prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.
Here are some of the highlights from Smith’s presentation:
- The ordinance prohibits discrimination in employment (compensation, promotions, termination etc.)
- The ordinance prohibits discrimination in public accommodations. This means making educational, recreational, business and other accommodations available to everyone, free of discrimination. This includes private clubs.
- The ordinance prohibits discrimination in leasing, selling and financing housing. There are exceptions, such as renting a room in a single-family dwelling, or even duplex rentals. Also, housing dedicated to people of one gender may restrict occupancy.
- Any business with contracts with the city may not discriminate against employees or applicants.
And enforcement? According to Smith, the city won’t go looking for discrimination. Instead, it will rely on complaints – which must be made within 180 days. Discrimination complaints covered by state or federal laws would be referred to the appropriate agencies. Complaints not covered by federal and state law would be investigated by the city manager, with the assistance of the city attorney.
If a violation is found the manager can use mediation or press for municipal civil infraction prosecution – which can carry heavy fines. The complainant could also file a lawsuit.
TerHaar said she was impressed by the way the community condemned racist graffiti at Mill Pond Park.
“Human behavior can be disappointing sometimes. So, I was heartened to the see the community’s response the racist graffiti. People said, ‘Saline is better than that.’ And we agree,” TerHaar said.
TerHaar noted there are 42 other Michigan cities with non-discrimination ordinances.
At the outset of the meeting, several people spoke in favor of the ordinance. York Township resident Mike Liemohn reference the recent controversy over the Saline High School homecoming float, where some Pioneer students mistakenly believed it was racist and began chanting “Saline is racist.”
The controversy was covered by an Ann Arbor News reporter.
“My daughter is a ninth grader. She went out to Fender Mender several times over the last week to work on the float. I can tell you float in no way was racist or discriminatory. It was a scene out of Toy Story,” Liemohn said. “That (misunderstanding) was their problem. But it was also our problem. Because we have an image problem. That is something people will say about Saline and then it’s picked up by Mlive and broadcast around the state. So, this non-discrimination ordinance directly addresses that issue because it says Saline is a welcoming city. It says Saline welcomes all people for who they are. And it says Saline is a great city.”
Mark Hensel owns Hensel Kenpo Karate. He grew up in Ann Arbor and lived there before moving to Saline. He spoke of a woman he knows who was afraid to address city council on the non-discrimination ordinance because she would “out herself.”
“That concerns me. There shouldn’t be anyone in our community concerned about being themselves to everyone, where ever and however they meet them,” Hensel said. “We should all feel comfortable enough in our own city to be who we are.”
Hensel said he doesn’t believe Saline has a racism or discrimination problem.
“I want to make sure my community remains as open an inclusive as it can possibly be,” Hensel said.
One Saline resident told city council the ordinance would make her feel safer.
“There are gay people in town and I’m one of them. I feel it’s important that we make us feel safe. Make us feel that we’re welcome, that we’re included,” she said. “It’s a scary world out there. It’s a scary political world. It’s a scary social world. It’s a scary place. I want to know that I’m protected. I want to know that my city has my back.”