City - County Gov.Leslee Kulba

Commissioners kick gay rights can down the road

By Leslee Kulba-

Commissioner Holly Jones had put the press on alert that she was going to raise nineteen questions about the county’s proposed personnel ordinance. Her chief concern was the document’s failure to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the list of classes protected against bullying and other workplace abuses. Several attendees at Tuesday’s meeting wore stickers that read “ENDA.” It stands for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a piece of federal legislation which has been proposed almost every year since 1994. Somebody even placed an ENDA sticker on the door of the meeting house. The commissioners had already been meeting for over four hours. When it came time for Jones to make her appeal, others on the dais appeared ill at ease. Finally, Bill Stanley piped up. “Mrs. Jones?” he interrupted. Stanley acknowledged the presence of press and cameras in the room during re-election season, and then he rhetorically asked if his peer had not followed staff’s instructions to review the draft and forward concerns to staff to be ironed out before the final document was to be presented. Stanley then called the question. Read more…

A motion, a hint of an impending amendment that would not be accepted by the maker of the motion, a request for a public hearing, and a called question hit the floor almost simultaneously. Assistant County Attorney Curt Euler tried to sort things out. The first matter of business was the call for a public hearing. The commissioners’ rules say one is to be granted at the request of a commissioner. The ordinance was over 100 pages long, but the five-word amendment was the hot button issue. To date, nobody has charged Buncombe County with discrimination against LGBTQ classes. Some making public comment said the silence was due to fear of retaliation. One lady told how her “partner,” who was employed by the county, was afraid to speak in person. Others said people treat them differently once their sexual preferences are divulged in the workplace. Euler had warned the commissioners there would likely be repercussions for adopting the language, but he requested that the problem be discussed in closed session. He later clarified that he represented the commissioners and he would speak of it publicly if that was their pleasure, but that was not his recommendation. A couple members of the public started citing General Statutes and intimating there would likely be repercussions for not adopting the language. Commission candidate Joe Belcher said he belonged to a special group that is the brunt of a lot of discrimination, Christians, but he does not ask the law for special protections. He then elaborated on the logical and legal futility of enumerating lists which can never be complete. Don Yelton paraphrased something he said while running for state senate. Cleaning up the language somewhat, he said he did not care what anybody did in their bedroom as long as he was not being forced to look at it, approve of it, or pay for it. Following the public hearing, the commissioners were about to vote on approving the employee manual without the amendment. Carol Weir Peterson said she needed to hear what Euler had to say before the vote. K. Ray Bailey added he needed to know more about the costs. When a member of the audience blurted scoffingly that there were no costs, Bailey sternly stared over his spectacles at the heckler and affirmed, “There are costs.” Bailey would have also preferred a few days to digest whatever Euler had to say. After some debate, the commissioners went into closed session. Several in the audience had decided to go home or out for drinks before the commissioners re-emerged. When they did, Jones said “we” were fighting for an important civil rights issue which was more important than any financial risk the county could take. She and Chair David Gantt were defeated in a motion to amend the ordinance to add the special language. She was then the only commissioner to vote against the entire ordinance because it didn’t contain the language. Since the vote was not unanimous, the ordinance will have a second reading. Other questions Jones had pertained to lengths of waiting periods, but she said those paled in comparison to the five words. Human Resource Manager Lisa Eby, who County Manager Dr. Wanda Greene couldn’t praise enough, indicated the old ordinance had been amended to the point the patchwork wasn’t working. The new document was an attempt to organize the old one and, more importantly, bring it up to date with state and federal requirements. Attempts were also made to bring incentives more in line with desired outcomes, which included the smoothing out of disparaging and unwarranted leaps and lags in benefits. Jones was confused when Greene and Eby reiterated that merit pay is not consistent with the teamwork demanded of public service, but people would be promoted by their ability to do the job.


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