Pressure mounts on Council for discrimination ban - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Pressure mounts on Council for discrimination ban

June 5th, 2021 development
Pressure mounts on Council for discrimination ban

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

Chandler’s Democratic legislators and the Chandler Chamber of Commerce are urging City Council to pass an ordinance prohibiting discrimination.

Sen. Sean Bowie and Reps. Jennifer Jermaine, Mitzi Epstein and Jennifer Pawlik wrote Mayor Kevin Hartke, asking him and Council to adopt an ordinance that would ensure equal access to employment and housing. Including for what Bowie called “our active and growing LGBTQ community.”

“We strongly believe that passing an anti-discrimination ordinance that treats everyone with dignity and respect is representative of the values and the character of the city that we love and represent,” the letter said.

Noting that Chandler is now the largest Arizona municipality without such an ordinance and is home to many major employers, the letter stated:

“We believe that implementing these protections in Chandler will not only protect our LGBTQ community but will also send a strong message to our business community that Chandler is a place that values equality, diversity, and equal rights for all and is a great place for its employees to live and work.”

Both Scottsdale and Mesa in recent months have passed anti-discrimination ordinances, joining Tempe, Tucson and Phoenix. The state does not have such a law.

The lawmakers warned that the absence of a discrimination ban could discourage developers and businesses from coming to Chandler.

“We believe the failure of Chandler to consider and adopt such an ordinance will harm the city’s ability to compete and bring future investment and jobs to the city,” the legislators wrote.

The Chandler Chamber of Commerce has expressed similar concerns about the economic harm Chandler could experience by failing to institute more protections for minorities and vulnerable populations.

In its own letter to Council, the Chamber board asked to pass new policies that promote equality, diversity and inclusion.

“For the Chamber, which represents the interests of more than 170,000 people employed by businesses operating in Chandler, instituting an anti-discrimination statute is essential to the continued vitality and competitiveness of our city,” the letter stated.

The public pressure on Council for an anti-discrimination ordinance comes as many members have appeared reluctant to do much to combat discrimination.

During a special meeting in April, Council discussed the practicality of enforcing an anti-discrimination ordinance.

Some members balked at the idea of citations and fines for proven acts of discrimination as well as how complaints would be vetted.

The April meeting ended with Council directing city staff to start drafting an anti-discrimination resolution rather than an ordinance.

Resolutions are considered watered down versions of ordinances that normally don’t institute any sort of accountability or penalties.

Some council members have said they’re wary about making the city responsible for deciding who’s guilty of discriminatory behavior.

The ordinances passed in other cities ban residents from discriminating others on the basis of sex, gender, race or ethnicity.

State and federal laws already guarantee some protections from discriminatory practices, but cities have been passing ordinances that try to fill in the gaps where existing laws fall short.

The ordinances passed in nearby municipalities at times generated pushback from residents.

Residents in Mesa attempted to reverse the city’s non-discrimination ordinance earlier this year by petitioning for a referendum, but the group failed to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

A reconstituted council in Scottsdale up-ended previous councils’ refusal to adopt an anti-discrimination ban and there was no citizen efforts to oppose the move.

Councilman OD Harris, one of the few Chandler Council members who has publicly supported an ordinance, said he’s grateful to see other Chandler leaders start to signal their support for stronger measures to prevent discrimination.

The letters the Chandler Chamber and local legislators are an important first step to bringing systemic change to Chandler, he said.

“This is the type of bold and ethically-sound leadership our country and our city are capable of when we work together to protect our citizens and I cannot praise and thank them enough,” Harris added.   

On May 24, the council held a closed-door meeting to discuss the legalities of instituting new non-discrimination policies.

Councilman Matt Orlando said he believes he and his colleagues will be holding more meetings in the future to discuss how Chandler will address discrimination.

Like Harris, Orlando has expressed interest in adopting ordinances similar to the those passed by Chandler’s neighbors.

“I think it’s important for Chandler to be there with the other cities – from a competitive edge,” Orlando said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Some Chandler residents are hopeful more  members will be swayed toward Harris’ and Orlando’s viewpoint.

Eduarda Schroder, a community leader and mother of a transgender child, said it’s important for Chandler to pass a policy that can have some “backbone” to it.

A resolution probably feels like the safer option, she said, but an ordinance can bring greater peace of mind to some residents.

“As a parent of a trans child, I am pretty adamant about having protections codified,” Schroder said. “I want my child to be able to have an opportunity to thrive.”

Schroder is a member of Chandler Pride, a new organization that strives to make the local LGBTQ community more visible and engaged. The group has spent the last couple months producing educational videos and hosting open discussions where community members can feel safe to express themselves.

Chandler Pride has additionally been trying to reach out to local leaders and educate them on social issues, hoping they see the value of passing a non-discrimination ordinance.

“The reason that we’re asking for this is because it is very, very important,” Schroder added. “It’s really about making sure that everyone feels safe and comfortable.”

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