Council split on Chandler non-discrimination policy - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Council split on Chandler non-discrimination policy

April 25th, 2021 SanTan Sun News
Council split on Chandler non-discrimination policy

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

Chandler City Council is split over whether to adopt a resolution or ordinance to protect certain populations from unlawful discrimination.

After several cities across the Valley passed ordinances prohibiting discrimination in public places, Chandler is thinking of following suit by introducing similar legislation that could apply to local residents and businesses.

Chandler city Councilman OD Harris has been recently spearheading the initiative and has already begun drafting some language he’d like to see included in a non-discrimination policy.

“Chandler celebrates and welcomes all people of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, social-economic status, age, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, immigrant status, veteran status, disability,” a draft of Harris’ policy states.

Harris publicly mentioned his desire to pass an ordinance last month after hundreds of Asian-American residents assembled outside City Hall to protest discriminatory behavior observed nationally against Asians throughout the pandemic.

During a council meeting on April 21, Harris said passing a non-discrimination ordinance could send a “strong message” to the community that Chandler is committed to protecting vulnerable groups and treating all its residents fairly.

But other Chandler leaders feel an ordinance is a bit overzealous and could result in criminalizing behavior the city should not be in a position to regulate.

Councilman Rene Lopez prefers establishing a resolution that could include many of the same elements as an ordinance, but without any enforcement aspect to it.

Resolutions, considered a notch below an ordinance, are a formal expression of opinion or position that represents the will of a municipal body. Chandler typically passes resolutions to handle administrative matters involving grants and intergovernmental agreements.

Lopez believes it may be best to pass a resolution that embodies the city’s stance on discrimination without including a regulatory feature to it.   

Unless there’s a systemic problem of discrimination in Chandler, he said, an ordinance with a set of penalties and fees almost seems unnecessary.

“That’s why putting something in with a criminal aspect to it, is a bridge too far,” Lopez said.

Councilman Terry Roe has a similar opinion, believing talks about an ordinance are a “distraction” and irrelevant to the actual community.

“Chandler is diverse and inclusive,” Roe said. “Most people who live in this community feel that very way.”

The Mesa City Council passed an ordinance last month that prohibits discrimination in employment and housing on the basis of race, color, sexual orientation, age, or religion. Violators of the law could be charged with civil fees that range between $300 and $2,500.

Scottsdale City Council last week passed a similar ordinance after years of effort.

Mesa’s ordinance has come under attack by some residents who feel its language is too vague and opponents are forcing it to a referendum, delaying the law from taking effect,

Phoenix, Tempe, Tucson, and Flagstaff have all passed non-discrimination ordinances.

Chandler’s leaders all seem support introducing some kind of legislation that condemns discrimination, but most are reluctant to commit to an ordinance that would open the door for punishing those who violate it.

The practicalities over who would investigate complaints of discrimination and who decides whether someone is guilty are issues that some raised about an ordinance.

Councilman Matt Orlando is one of the few council members who thinks Chandler should consider drafting an ordinance rather than a resolution or proclamation.

If so many other municipalities in Arizona are passing ordinances, he said, then Chandler would stand out as the city afraid to commit to prohibiting discrimination.

“For us to say we’re not going to put in an ordinance, to me puts us at a competitive disadvantage,” Orlando said.

State and federal laws already protect certain populations from unwanted discrimination or harassment, but these laws are not always applicable to some members of the LGBTQ community and other groups.

Chandler City Attorney Kelly Schwab said the city could fill in any gaps that aren’t currently covered by federal laws and has the discretion to define the policy’s language however Chandler sees fit. 

“It can be as broad as you want it or as narrow as you want it,” Schwab explained.

Council has recently directed staff to draft some language for a potential resolution that can be reviewed and possibly approved at a later date.

Even if Council ultimately decides to pass a resolution, Harris said he hopes Chandler will still consider introducing an ordinance at some point in the future.

The issue appears to be an important one for the new councilman, who has often spoke out on matters involving racial injustice and discrimination.

Not long after the guilty verdict in Derek Chauvin’s trial was announced in Minneapolis last week, Harris made a statement solidifying his commitment to forming a more perfect union in Chandler.

“As an Army veteran, I swore an oath to defend our constitution and our way of life,” Harris stated. “However, as a Black man in America, at times, that constitution and way of life have not been favorable towards me or my community.”

Harris added that he was “committed to making sure policing policies are fair, transparent, and just for all community members.”