2 cities want out of county's human rights law


Published: Wednesday, November 27, 2013 at 5:53 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 27, 2013 at 5:53 p.m.

Two cities have asked the Alachua County Commission to change its recently amended human rights ordinance so it won't be applicable countywide.

The county ordinance now protects against harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

Mayor C. Dianne Dubberly of LaCrosse and Mayor Frank Ogborn of Archer have both sent letters on behalf of their cities to the County Commission asking it to amend the ordinance once again, this time to exclude the county's municipalities and offer an opt-in provision instead.

Dubberly told The Sun she would like the county to use an opt-in clause as it has in the past.

"It's a home rule issue," she said. "It sets a bad precedent now and in the future."

The County Commission amended its human rights ordinance on Aug. 13 to protect people against discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. It also put the measure into effect countywide, with the exception of municipalities that already have or choose to adopt their own human rights ordinances.

The city of Gainesville already has such an ordinance, so that takes precedence over the county's if there are conflicts between the two. Like the county's ordinance, Gainesville's ordinance forbids discrimination based on either sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

Dubberly sent a letter dated Sept. 11 to the County Commission asking it to make the ordinance applicable in the cities only if they choose to be included.

"Our town has in the past, and still, chooses to be under the jurisdiction of federal and state anti-discrimination laws. The citizens of our town have not expressed a desire to change this jurisdiction, and as elected officials, it is our duty to respond to the will of our citizens. This ordinance is tantamount to county intrusion upon that will, and upon home rule authority," Dubberly wrote.

She sent another letter to County Commissioner Robert "Hutch" Hutchinson disagreeing with comments she said he raised during the Aug. 13 public hearing, namely that the municipalities were given plenty of time to raise an issue over the proposed amendments.

She stated that an email was sent on July 24 to the municipalities with a "generic message" that the county was considering amending its ordinance and which didn't indicate the cities would be included in it. LaCrosse regularly receives a lot of emails, many of which come from the county, and Dubberly wrote that she didn't have time to give attention to that particular message, with its 29-page attachment and generic message, when she first saw it.

Dubberly wrote that she was never informed the municipalities would be included in the ordinance in later communications with the county and only found out from a news story after the commission had approved the changes.

The LaCrosse government is only open two part-time days each week so it only had five working days between getting the first email and the public hearing, while cities with full-time hours had 14 working days, which she wrote didn't constitute "plenty of time."

Archer's Mayor Ogborn's letter echoed Dubberly's in supporting LaCrosse's request for municipalities to be excluded from the ordinance unless they opt in. He also wrote that Archer wants to fall under state and federal anti-discrimination laws, not the county's ordinance, and that its citizens haven't come forward with a desire to change that.

The LGBT community is not included in statewide protections against discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations, according to Equality Florida's website. The state doesn't have a non-discrimination law regarding employment that includes protections for sexual orientation or gender identity.

At the federal level, there isn't a law that offers consistent protection to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people against employment discrimination, according to the Human Rights Campaign's website.

Federal law does prohibit discrimination against both transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, however, according to the website for an LGBT-related think tank called the Movement Advancement Project.

Both mayors wrote that the requirement that cities enact a conflicting ordinance in order to be excluded from the county's represents a financial burden that wouldn't otherwise be necessary.

Archer City Manager Al Grieshaber Jr. said drafting a conflicting ordinance would be costly for small cities. "We think it's an infringement on home rule," he said.

County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson said the County Commission will probably need to discuss this issue, possibly by meeting with the cities. The county looks at home rule in some ordinances and doesn't in others, he said, so it may want to set a standard for future situations. The letters from LaCrosse and Archer seem to indicate the county didn't do as good a job as it thought it had in communicating with the cities.

"We should establish a better line of communication moving forward," Pinkoson said.

Hutchinson told The Sun the idea that the changes to this ordinance snuck up on the cities strikes him as "disingenuous" given the multiple times the commission discussed the issue and media coverage of the topic. Had anyone from the cities stepped forward during the process, the commission would have discussed the home-rule issue in depth.

"My basic issue is that human rights should not be subject to a home-rule thing and if they want to opt out it's a very simple thing for them to do, and it looks to me like they are just unwilling to have a public hearing," Hutchinson said. "They just want us to do their work for them."

Hutchinson said he doesn't see a reason for the county to amend its ordinance to exclude the municipalities.

"They want to invoke home rule for basic civil rights, and I don't see any real motivation for the county to do that," he said.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gainesville.com.

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