By Seth Littrell
Register News Writer
As part of its annual report to the Berea City Council on Tuesday, the Berea human rights commission recommended the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance be amended to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Commission Chair Lisa Vaughn said members of the group had received a complaint about discrimination based on sexual orientation, but it was unable to investigate or take action because no local ordinance, state or federal law authorizes the panel to do so.
“Current law permits, and in effect legalizes, discrimination based on the perception of sexual orientation or gender identity by not extending nondiscrimination protections to all citizens,” Vaughn said.
She said in the past year, the HRC has received a total of four discrimination complaints.
Council Member Diane Kerby, seconded by Virgil Burnside, proposed that a council committee be formed to work with the HRC, the ethics committee and the city administrator to study the amendment and begin work on a draft.
Kerby volunteered to serve on the committee and by Mayor Steven Connelly appointed her to chair the panel. Chester Powell also volunteered, saying the committee should also address how the HRC’s responsibilities would change if the amendment is passed. Billy Wagers also volunteered, but said he would not be available to attend some meetings because of personal issues. Ronnie Terrill offered to sit in for Wagers during his absence.
David Hunt, a Berea resident, spoke against the amendment during the public comments portion of the meeting. He said he was a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and recalled that there was a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in effect during his service.
“The guy standing beside you, it didn’t matter what color he was, it didn’t matter who he was attracted to,” Hunt said. “ All that mattered was that he did his job. I believe we all agree that (sexual orientation) shouldn’t matter.”
However, he said passing the amendment would take rights away from religious people, and that enforcing it would be an improper use of government money.
In a separate portion of the HRC report, Vaughn submitted a request to reallocate the commission’s funding so the group could focus more on community outreach.
She said the commission was not asking for additional money but instead wants to use what they have differently. A redistribution would, in part, allow the HRC to secure office space and pay a staff member to work one day a week.
In other business, the council:
• Heard a complaint from a resident who said city employees were stuffing envelopes with survey cards cards for an alcohol referendum during work hours. Connelly said the city supports the referendum study because of the opportunities it could potentially bring to local businesses. He compared it to the way Berea supports other “economic development activities” like the Spoonbread Festival and tourism events.
Burnside noted during the meeting’s council comments period that although the study is a city function, he understood how employees’ involvement could be misconstrued as bias.
If the survey produces enough responses, a referendum on alcohol sales by the drink within city limits will be called.
• Opened bids on the Bratcher Lane Improvements project.
• Police Chief David Gregory informed the council that the gate at Silver Creek Elementary remains closed until classes let out, but parents waiting to pick up their children are parking on the roadside, creating a potential safety hazard in the event of an emergency.
• Mayor Connelly proclaimed Oct. 21-27, 2013, Kentucky Retired Teachers Appreciation Week.
• Connelly also proclaimed proclaimed Oct. 20-26, 2013, Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week.
Seth Littrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 624-6623.