The policy amendment, which was introduced by Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid, would provide protections for city employees who have faced discrimination because of their sexuality — an issue that has failed to win support at the federal and state levels.
The council appeared divided on the issue when it came up for discussion.
“There is a perception … in decades past that the council has been hostile to these groups,” Shadid said.
“I think without the discussion, you don’t get the benefit of healing. I think this resolution goes a long way toward, instead of being divisive, healing some of the wounds of the past.”
right, Councilman Ronald “Skip” Kelly
The city’s current policy prohibits discrimination based on race, color, creed, ethnic origin, sex, age, disability or political affiliation.
Three citizens spoke in support of the measure, including Scott Hamilton, executive director of the Cimarron Alliance.
“This one minor change does not take away anyone’s rights, but rather it adds protection to a group of people who right now are purposely excluded from protection,” Hamilton said.
“While this change affects only city employees, it does send a much greater message that there is hope here for equality for all citizens, that there is a place for everyone to work, to contribute, to grow.”
Ward 3 Councilman Larry McAtee said he wanted to be cautious about moving forward, since employment nondiscrimination measures passed by both the state and federal government did not include sexual orientation.
“Their wording is exactly what our wording is now,” McAtee said. “So that gives me a little concern about changing it, since the state has gone through this and seen there is no need to change it.”
McAtee asked that the measure be deferred for 30 days.
Ward 5 Councilman David Greenwell said he was in favor of the proposal, but was concerned about it not coming from the city’s personnel department or with a recommendation on the issue from the personnel department.
“Whatever the recommendation is, we’re not bound by it, but it at least gives me confidence they’ve looked at it and they feel like it’s in the best interest of the city, and that’s what I’m concerned about: what is in the best interest of the city of Oklahoma City,” Greenwell said.
Ward 7 Councilman Ronald “Skip” Kelly said he understands the concern about discrimination, but previous anti-discrimination policies were put in place to address a discrimination problem.
“If we’re going to talk about Oklahoma City, let’s talk about what really exists in Oklahoma City. Is it an issue in Oklahoma City?” Kelly said, adding there was no empirical data presented to show that city employees were working in a hostile environment or discriminated on account of their sexual orientation. “To some degree, it makes it look like this was put here and brought to us to say that we’ve been doing something wrong, that we’ve been sinful against a class of people, that we’ve discriminated against a class of people, and I haven’t seen any information to prove that.”
Shadid replied that unless a policy is in place, it would be difficult for employees who have been discriminated against to come forward.
“The idea that we would not address an issue because we don’t know the incidents or empirical data, I am not understanding that,” Shadid said, adding that political affiliation was included in the existing language without any prior discrimination data. “I think in other municipalities you have the policy, then people start coming forward. You’re not going to know what the empirical data is until you set the policy.”
Shadid said it is the City Council’s responsibility to set policy, rather than staff.
“I don’t think it’s city staff’s responsibility to set policy. … We’re adding two words to a laundry list,” he said. “That’s all we’re doing — two words: ‘sexual orientation.’ It’s City Council that sets policy, not city staff. I feel like we’re looking for a reason to vote against it to study it to death.”
The vote was 5-3 to defer the issue for
four weeks, but Ward 8 Councilman Pat Ryan, who voted against the
deferral, asked that the motion be changed to move it to a different
date since he would not be at the Nov. 22 meeting.
item was reconsidered, and despite some initial protests to keep the
original date, it was unanimously approved to move the reconsideration
of the measure to Nov. 15.
Photo by Mark Hancock