Montevallo Council putting NDO on April agenda

 

By NANCY WILSTACH / Special to the Reporter

MONTEVALLO – First reading of a proposed Montevallo Nondiscrimination Ordinance is tentatively scheduled for the first City Council meeting in April following more than a year of forums, committee meetings and work sessions devoted to the controversial proposal.

An ordinance—except those considered emergencies—must have two readings with public notice before the council can vote.  The first reading is tentatively set for April 9.

Right now it looks as if the NDO could squeak by with a narrow majority to extend to LGBTQ persons the same rights now enjoyed by minority races, religions and ethnicities under federal civil rights law.

The Montevallo Acceptance Project was organized almost two years ago to seek protection for LGBTQ individuals in areas such as employment and housing. MAP brought the initial draft NDO to the council.

Most sticking points with the proposed NDO that have been raised in its various public airings boil down to bathrooms and the bible. Religious objections to homosexuality and the spectre of men in dresses inside women’s restrooms come up at every discussion.

Mayor Hollie Cost noted that she has researched other cities with similar ordinances and has been unable to find a single instance of such infiltration of women’s restrooms.

Since its 11-page debut, compromises to seek consensus have shrunk the NDO to fewer than four full pages. A proposed Human Rights Commission was eliminated, for example.

Still, not everyone is happy.

Following a council work session Tuesday, March 20, Councilman Rusty Nix remains flatly opposed to extending civil rights protection to the LGBTQ population: “We don’t need it. There have been no complaints with the police or the housing authority.”

Councilman Willie Goldsmith won’t commit, but says: “It will pass without me.”  Goldsmith is the council’s only African-American member. He cites “my church teachings,” and he appears ready to abstain when the NDO comes to a vote.

Councilwoman Tiffany Bunt—once a fairly firm “yes”—said that she is wavering since going out into her district and talking to constituents, particularly business owners. Ordinarily, she said, “I would be for an ordinance of this kind, but we have to consider the will of the people.”

Councilman Jason Peterson, a solid “yes” from the beginning and the chairman of the ad hoc committee to study the proposal, says he remains convinced the city needs to protect its LGBTQ citizens.

Councilman Matt Walker started out on the fence with buckets of detailed questions and succeeded in adding “veteran status” to the list of protected classes.

However, since his early reluctance, Walker now says that he has come to think “we need it.”

In its present form the NDO requires anyone who employs even a single person to avoid discrimination.  That point was a Walker focus from the start and remains that way.

“Even if you hire a babysitter or a nanny?” he mused.

Cost, a fervent and tenancious NDO supporter, said that she “would consider an exception for employing people in your home.”

Bunt said that she wanted Montevalloans to understand that the NDO does not apply to churches and schools. City Clerk Herman Lehman noted that the schools in Montevallo are part of a county system, while the University of Montevallo is a state institution, and they are covered by other laws.