BG Council split on anti-discrimination language in charter preamble

Bowling Green City Council meeting Monday evening

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN

BG Independent News

 

Updating the seemingly hum-drum Bowling Green City Charter has stirred some concerns – including some that have been dormant for years.

A question debated by City Council last week focused on whether or not non-discrimination wording should be inserted into the preamble of the city charter.

Unlike the charter changes that must be voted on by the public, the preamble can be decided by council, explained Council President Mike Aspacher. But council is far from united on whether such language belongs in the introduction.

When it came down to a vote, the decision was split. Voting in favor of adding non-discrimination verbiage to the preamble were council members Daniel Gordon, Bill Herald, Sandy Rowland and John Zanfardino. Voting against were Aspacher, Bruce Jeffers and Greg Robinette.

Council member Bill Herald cautioned that, if included, the language should be brief and flow well with the rest of the preamble. Anything lengthy could dwarf the rest of the introduction, he said.

Others argued that Bowling Green has long prided itself in having a clean charter – that focuses solely on the mechanisms of city government. Jeffers said the preamble currently stresses the importance of “home rule,” which has been whittled away in recent years. Additional wording could take away from the “home rule” emphasis, he said.

Aspacher said that while he likely would personally agree with non-discrimination language, he is not inclined to support the change.

“It’s not an issue-based charter,” he said. The city has worked hard to make sure the charter does not stray from its focus on the structure of the government and how it functions.

Aspacher also pointed out that in recent years, Bowling Green voters have rejected efforts to inject other items in the charter – such as the anti-pipeline amendment last year.

“I will not be supporting this,” he said about changing the preamble.

Gordon said the wordy might be tricky, but “social equity and social justice” can be included in the preamble.

Herald suggested that the non-discrimination language would not have to be long, and could be accomplished in a few sentences. But Aspacher said it was not necessary.

The city already has two non-discrimination ordinances in place, plus passed a resolution last year declaring Bowling Green a welcoming community.

“I feel like we have sufficiently addressed those issues,” Aspacher said.

“I pretty much agree with Mike,” Jeffers said. He added that while he respected the work of the charter review committee, “the charter is really not the place for that.”

Shannon Orr, a co-chair of the charter review committee, said the members debated the inclusion of non-discrimination language but came to the conclusion that it should be part of the preamble.

According to one council member, some citizens feel more needs to be done to prevent discrimination in the city. Rowland said she had been contacted by people upset that the city’s anti-discrimination ordinances had exemptions.

“We are a welcoming community now. We don’t exempt anyone,” she said.

Herald asked Rowland what exemptions she was talking about in the anti-discrimination ordinances. She replied that Herald had insisted on exemptions for the private and Catholic schools in the city when it came to hiring employees.

However, Rowland said that problem needs to be fixed in another way – not by including it in the preamble which doesn’t carry the weight of law.

“That’s got to be remedied at another time,” she said.

After the divided vote to add some type of anti-discrimination language to the preamble of the charter, Aspacher asked Gordon, who is head of the community improvement committee, to work with his committee to craft language for the preamble.

That committee will meet prior to the next City Council meeting, on July 2 at 6 p.m., to work on that language.

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