Tempers flare as Chandler Council debates NDO - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Tempers flare as Chandler Council debates NDO

November 7th, 2022 SanTan Sun News
Tempers flare as Chandler Council debates NDO

By Ken Sain
Managing Editor

A feisty Chandler City Council on Oct. 24 began hammering out what a non-discrimination ordinance (NDO) would look like and the heated discussion led to confrontations, accusations, some shouting and pleas to follow decorum.

“I’m desperately trying to get through this meeting and you are desperately getting in the way of that,” Mayor Kevin Hartke told Councilman OD Harris. “I am reaching the end of my patience, and I would appreciate it if you would show the respect and the decorum that we have shown you.”

Chandler is the largest city in Arizona without a NDO and Council has been exploring how to improve its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) for two years.

“What I don’t like is that people are being discriminated in our ordinance in our city,” Harris said. “And we’re playing games [with] numbers. I don’t like that. I want to live in a city where I can walk down the street and not be discriminated on. That’s what I want.”

A non-discrimination ordinance would allow employees and customers to file complaints if they believe they are being discriminated against because they are a member of a protected class.

There are federal and state laws that protect many of those classes already, but not all of them. The ordinance the city is looking at would include sexual orientation, gender identity and veteran status, which are not protected now.

The clock is running out on the current council as Vice Mayor Terry Roe’s and Rene Lopez’s terms end in January. The current council has not been eager to pass a NDO, with only Harris and Matt Orlando supporting one.

Roe and Lopez are being replaced by Angel Encinas and Jane Poston, who both said they support passing a NDO. If the vote to pass one is not there now, it likely will be after Jan. 12 when they are sworn in.

That context might explain why the Oct. 24 work session became so confrontational. The current council was accused of trying to pass a toothless NDO to prevent the next one from passing a measure with more teeth.

“If we have to wait for the next council, because two new council members got elected on this issue, I’ll wait,” Orlando said. “If we can’t get there, we’ll wait three months. The last thing I want to do, councilmembers, is to usurp two new councilmembers who ran on this in the election … and come back and fix it because they feel strongly another way.”

City Attorney Kelly Schwab outlined what a Chandler NDO would look like, based on previous comments from council members.

It would prohibit discrimination, harassment, and retaliation based on actual or perceived race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, disability, marital status or familial status.

It would cover all city contractors, vendors, and consultants. It would also provide equity in employment and places of public accommodation.

In cases where there are existing laws and regulations, the city would forward complaints to the appropriate body.

For example, if someone claims they did not get a job because of their race, their case would go to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

There would be exemptions.

Nonprofit private clubs, such as the YMCA, would be exempt. So would religious organizations or people holding bona fide religious views.

The City of Chandler is exempt because it already has its own rules prohibiting discrimination. Businesses that give senior discounts would still be able to do so and not be forced to give everyone those discounts.

The biggest point of contention was for a small business exemption.

Schwab had proposed businesses with five or fewer employees being exempt. Councilman Mark Stewart suggested they should go with the Chamber of Commerce’s definition of a small business and make it 500 or fewer. Roe suggested they use the number the federal government used during the pandemic of 50 or fewer.

“Five, 50, it should be none,” Harris shouted. “No one should have the ability to do this. Nobody. I don’t care how big or how small they are, no one should discriminate on nobody.”

Chandler’s economic development office lists two dozen companies that employ 500 or more people in the city. The Chandler Chamber of Commerce says there are 28 that employ that many.

Most companies of that size, like the city, already have their own policies to prohibit discrimination.

Council members backing a higher exemption number said they did not want to burden small businesses with legal matters, especially because some complaints may have no merit.

“I thought a mom or pop organization was not in the best position, so I’m the one that threw that in there,” said Hartke, who suggested an exemption for five or fewer employees. “I just thought it would be something that a very small company is not equipped to address.”

The Chandler Chamber of Commerce, which looks out for business interests, is one of the groups that have been calling for a non-discrimination ordinance.

There were more disagreements when discussing penalties as well.

Councilwoman Christine Ellis said she thought mandatory training was enough.

Schwab had proposed public censure and suspension or debarment for city contracts for a period of three years.

Hartke asked Schwab to craft a proposed ordinance that would focus on training and not include public censure. He left open the debarment, which would mean a city contractor found to be discriminating would not be awarded any city contracts for three years.

Schwab had begun the discussion on a NDO speaking about how it has played out in the nine Arizona cities that have passed one. They are Flagstaff, Glendale, Mesa, Phoenix, Sedona, Scottsdale, Tempe, Tucson, and Winslow.

She said that most complaints get worked out before reaching the final step of the process, which involves penalties. Only one case went that far, and that was appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court.

The court ultimately decided against the City of Phoenix and for the business, saying it had a right to religious exemption when it had refused to print wedding invitations for a same-sex couple.

There was even a disagreement on what to call the ordinance.

Harris said they could give it a new name, but everyone would still call it the non-discrimination ordinance.

Stewart said that title had a punitive feel. He suggested the title should be the “Chandler Embraces Diversity Ordinance.”

Harris offered a compromise: “Chandler Embraces Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.” The other members did not go for that.

It did not appear a final decision was made.

Harris said he felt he had been undermined during the entire process. Some of his colleagues disagreed with him.

The next step is for Schwab and her staff to work out the actual code changes based on the feedback they received from Council. They will then put it on an agenda at a future meeting for their consideration.

“I’m glad conversations are taking place,” said Eduarda Schroder, who is president of Chandler Pride, a LGBTQ+ rights group.

“I’m with Councilmember Harris when he says you should not be discriminating,” Schroder said. “As described in the meeting today, the businesses wouldn’t be penalized in anyway, they wouldn’t even be censured. That’s another thing that I disagree with.”