By Seth Littrell
Register News Writer
Berea’s city council will devote two hours before its next meeting to discuss proposed changes to the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance.
Near the end of Tuesday’s council work session, a draft of the new ordinance was distributed to members, and council member Diane Kerby presented a summary of the changes. They prohibit discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on gender identity, sexual orientation and familial status. Protected categories now include race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age and physical disability.
If adopted, the ordinance also would give the Berea Human Rights Commission authority to appoint investigators and officers who would conduct enforcement hearings.
HRC Member Jon Rogers said the new language was borrowed from similar ordinances in other cities as well as from state law. Proposed enforcement policies were chosen after examining methods used in other cities and considering what would work best for Berea.
Several council members had questions about the proposal, most notably, how much money the HRC would need if the changes are adopted. The proposal calls for investigator and hearing officers to be contracted on an as-needed basis. But the commission could incur legal fees if a matter was not solved through mediation.
Rogers said the prospect of complaint going to an enforcement hearing, statistically, is very low. A member of the state HRC told him a city of Berea’s size would likely average about one hearing a year, he said.
The amount of money would be difficult to estimate, Kerby said, but council member Ronnie Terrill suggested it could be as much as $30,000 a year.
Council members Virgil Burnside and Violet Farmer said they needed more time to study the ordinance and determine how the changes affect the HRC’s relationship with the city.
To discuss the ordinance in depth, the council scheduled a special work session beginning 4:30 p.m. March 4. The work session will take place in the council chambers of the Police and Municipal Building at 304 Chestnut St.
Spectrum study Phase 2 approved
The council approved continuing a study to determine if the city was a viable location for a retirement community.
In July, it funded an initial examination of census data and other public documents. In the second phase, Spectrum representatives will come to Berea to conduct a more in-depth study of the area, including possible competitors near by.
The second phase will cost $7,000, bringing the total cost of the analysis to $12,500.
As long as the data remain current, study results also can be shared with businesses considering moving to the area, Mayor Steve Connelly said.
Council Member Chester Powell was the only dissenting vote on the issue.
“Why do we need to do this?” he asked. “If I had $2 million to build a retirement home, I would pay for the study myself.”
Connelly said United Church Homes, a company that bought land for a retirement community several years ago but has not built anything, began updating its study simultaneously with the city upon hearing the council was still interested.
Committee ordinance read
The council heard first reading of a new ordinance governing how council committees are created and organized.
Initially, only two standing committees, audit/finance and public works, would be appointed. In previous work sessions, council members and City Manager Randy Stone agreed those two committees were needed to keep the council informed about city operations.
Terrill moved Tuesday evening to table the ordinance so additional discussion could take place. He questioned whether any committees were necessary. However, the motion died for lack of a second.
Closed session called to discuss purchase of property
The council briefly entered into closed session to discuss the purchase of land from Mitch Tolle. Connelly said public discussion could affect the price, and this exception is allowed under state Open Meetings statutes. No action was taken after the session, the mayor said.
Seth Littrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 624-6623.