The Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce says opponents of the city’s civil rights ordinance are attempting to mislead voters in the run up to the Sept. 8 special election.
If approved, the ordinance will prohibit business owners and landlords from unjustly firing or evicting someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
In a news release (PDF) issued Saturday, chamber officials said Protect Fayetteville, a group advocating against passage of the city’s Uniform Civil Rights Protection ordinance, is using the chamber’s letterhead and logo to imply that the chamber is opposed to the new law.
Chamber president Steve Clark was one of seven people to stand at the podium alongside Alderwoman Adella Gray during the introduction of the new law on the steps of the Fayetteville Town Center in early June.
Saturday’s announcement came in response to a document being circulated (PDF) by Protect Fayetteville entitled, “Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce Letter Revisited.” The document, written on chamber letterhead, begins with an italicized statement which argues that the new ordinance is the “same or worse” than the previous law. What follows is a mix of chamber statements from a 2014 letter about the previous ordinance and then comments from Protect Fayetteville in red text.
“It has come to our attention that a letter previously issued in 2014, noting the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce’s opposition to the previous civil rights ordinance, known as Chapter 119, is being used by the Protect Fayetteville campaign,” officials stated in the release. “The letter, written on Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce letterhead, has been edited by Protect Fayetteville and is posted on the Protect Fayetteville website. It is unfairly misleading, using our logo and prior publication, to imply that the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce is opposed to Ordinance 5781.”
In its campaign to repeal the previous law, chamber officials in 2014 criticized the measure and called it “legally incomplete” and “vague” in its language defining the ordinance.
The new proposal, which specifically outlines claim submission, hearing procedures, and order of penalties, was drafted with help from local attorney Mark Martin of the Martin Law Firm, and Danielle Weatherby, Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Arkansas.
Chamber officials said their previous concerns have been fully addressed.
“Ordinance 5781 corrected the problems that the chamber identified in Chapter 119,” officials said Saturday. “We believe Ordinance 5781 is good for business and economic development, and reflects the welcoming, diverse community we enjoy in Fayetteville.”
Advocates praise chamber’s response
In a press release, For Fayetteville, the group campaigning for passage of the new ordinance, praised the chamber for its support and for responding to the opposition’s use of chamber letterhead.
“We’re glad to have the support of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce in this effort to pass equal protections for everyone,” said Kyle Smith, chair of the For Fayetteville campaign. “The Chamber knows #5781 will help grow our economy and attract new businesses who value their employees and customers. Since our campaign started, nearly 400 Fayetteville businesses have signed a pledge to support #5781, because they know it’s good for business.”
For Fayetteville representatives said they worked with the chamber and others who opposed the previous law to write the new ordinance.
“When we started drafting ordinance #5781, we started with the chamber’s list of concerns from Chapter 119,” Smith said. “They released a letter last year, so we went through one by one and found a solution that works for everyone. As voters, business owners, and other community leaders read and learn about #5781, they realize it makes sense for Fayetteville and strikes the right balance to protect LGBT rights while respecting religious freedoms. Discrimination in employment, housing, or public accommodation is bad for business and has no place in our town. We thank the Chamber of Commerce for standing with us.”
Opponents defend use of chamber materials
In a statement (PDF) released by Protect Fayetteville, opponents said it is “absurd” to think that anyone would be confused by their use of chamber materials.
The group said by using red text for its commentary alongside chamber statements in black text, it should be clear enough for anyone reading the document to understand where the chamber stands.
“This introduction cannot be misleading from any stretch of the imagination,” the group stated.
About the ordinance
The new ordinance was approved by aldermen on June 16. As part of that approval, the ordinance will not go into effect unless voters approve the measure in a special election to be held Sept. 8.
If passed, the new law will prohibit business owners and landlords from firing or evicting someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It will also provide protections for use of public accommodations, including restrooms.
Churches, religious schools and daycare facilities, and religious organizations of any kind would be exempt from the new law.
Unlike the previous repealed ordinance, the city attorney would not serve as the administrator of complaints. Instead, a Civil Rights Commission would be formed to review and decide complaints of alleged discrimination.
The commission would consist of seven members: two representatives of the business community; two owners or managers of rental property; one representative with experience in human resources or employment law; and two citizens at large, at least one of whom identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
Anyone asserting a claim of discrimination would be required to present their claim in writing to the city attorney, who would inform the Civil Rights Commission that a complaint had been received.
Informal and confidential mediation would be attempted by the city before any other enforcement measures could begin. If mediation fails, the commission would schedule a hearing to review the complaint and receive evidence. If the commission determines that discrimination had occurred, the violator would be fined up to $100 for the first offense. Subsequent violations would carry the city’s general penalty which calls for fines of up to $500. A violation would not be considered a misdemeanor or felony.
Early voting will take place from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sept. 1-4 in the Washington County Clerk’s office at 280 N. College Ave. There will be no early voting on Monday, Sept. 7 due to the Labor Day holiday. Both paper ballots and touch-screen machines will be available for early voters.
Polls will open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on election day Tuesday, Sept. 8. There will be no paper ballots on election day. Unlike previous elections, Fayetteville voters may cast ballots at any of the approved polling sites, regardless of their voting precinct.
The Awakening – 5763 E. Mission Blvd.
Baldwin Church of Christ – 4399 Huntsville Road
Buckner Baptist Church – 748 Wyman Road
Central United Methodist Church – 6 W. Dickson St.
Christ’s Church – 525 W. 15th Street
Christian Life Cathedral – 1285 E. Millsap Road
Covenant Church of Christ – 4511 W. Wedington Dr.
First Assembly – 550 E. 15th St.
First United Presbyterian Church – 695 E. Calvin St.
Genesis Church – 205 W. 6th St.
Mt. Comfort Church of Christ – 3249 Mt. Comfort Road
Sang Avenue Baptist Church – 1425 N. Sang Ave.
Sequoyah Methodist Church – 1910 Old Wire Road
St. John’s Lutheran Church – 2730 E. Township Road
Trinity Fellowship – 1100 Rolling Hills Dr.
Trinity Methodist – 1021 W. Sycamore St.
Yvonne Richardson Center – 240 E. Rock St.
For more information about the special election, visit www.co.washington.ar.us.