Local business owners Mark Hensel and Mitch Rohde went to the Saline City Council meeting Monday night for one purpose, to support the establishment of a city nondiscrimination ordinance. Since this was the last item on the agenda they sat through more than an hour of unrelated business.
In a memo, Mayor Brian Marl appointed a committee consisting of Mayor Pro Tem Linda TerHaar and Council members Dean Girbach and Christen Mitchell to draft a nondiscrimination ordinance. He and Girbach both commented that it was “long overdue.”
“As someone who runs a small engineering/technology company, I know how hard it is to recruit and retain talent,” Rohde said during citizens’ comment time.
“As a scientist and technologist for my whole life, I can also tell you that talent knows no boundaries, whether it be gender or race or background or nationality; that talented smart people come from everywhere and of all stripes and colors. Thus, the notion that Saline would be a welcoming community for folks of all backgrounds is important to our company.”
Though Rohde was emphasizing that such a policy is good for business, he also felt a personal commitment to nondiscrimination. Hensel also spoke out.
“I think a lot of us were disappointed to see the failure of the civil rights motion moving through the school board in 2010, seeking to include LGBTQ rights,” Hensel said. “I would just hope that the new ordinance would include gender identity, sexual identity and gender expression as well.”
Hensel also suggested that whatever enforcement of nondiscrimination is set up, it might be good to have it done by some sort of committee rather than just one or a few government officials. This would help assure that a particular individual’s values do not contravene the intent of the ordinance.
Marl said that at this point everything is on the table and suggested that Hensel and any other community members with thoughts on this policy should contact one of the members of the committee.
“I don’t think our idea is to make it a penalty type thing that’s hard to even enforce,” Girbach said. “It’s more of a thing that allows people to have a voice, which many people don’t have.”
One paragraph of the memo Marl wrote recommending the drafting of this ordinance summed up his intent.
“It should go without saying, that successful communities foster an environment where all of our citizens feel welcome and protected,” Marl wrote. “In that vein, I have asked this work group to connect with other municipalities that have considered or adopted similar policies. They are also charged with connecting with any regional or statewide organizations, local citizens, and legal counsel to gain additional insight.”
Marl would like the group to have something ready for council action by June 5. In the meantime, citizen input is encouraged.