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Sunday, September 29,2013

LGBT ordinance split

Meridian Township board divided over LGBT non-discrimination ordinance

by Andy Balaskovitz
Milton Scales

This story was updated on Sept. 29 to include comments from township Clerk Brett Dreyfus.

Thursday, Sept. 26 — The Meridian Township Board of Trustees is divided over a draft non-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBT individuals, as three members are concerned about potential costs, departmental strain and litigation. At least one trustee also says it should be a statewide cause, not local.

According to Trustee Angela Wilson, a strong supporter of the ordinance, Trustee Milton Scales, Clerk Brett Dreyfus and Treasurer Julie Brixie expressed concerns at a Sept. 17 meeting over potential costs to the township and whether it had the authority to adopt the legislation, even though township attorney Andrea Dichtman assured them it could under state law.

Scales said today he is against the ordinance because he believes the state Legislature should act first so there is “uniformity of law throughout the state. I support the cause. I’m just not supporting the method of resolve that is before me.”

The draft ordinance is similar to others in the area that prohibit discrimination in employment and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Meridian Township last discussed the issue at its Sept. 17 meeting.

The “One Capital Region” campaign is attempting to get non-discrimination ordinances protecting the LGBT community passed throughout greater Lansing. East Lansing and Lansing already have such protections in place. Delta and Delhi townships also are considering similar ordinances.

Scales called such local efforts a “misguided campaign. We should be focusing our efforts on the state Legislature,” specifically, amending the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include protections for the LGBT community. “I don’t believe going township by township, city by city, is the way to resolve the problem.”

When asked how that would be possible with a state Legislature controlled by Republicans, some of whom have deliberately tried to prevent local governments from adopting such legislation, Scales said: “I am so tired of people saying it won’t happen. We’re alienating supporters by running around doing a local-government push.”

Scales, according to One Capital Region, which has been following local developments on this issue, reportedly called it “feel-good legislation.” He is also concerned that handling discrimination complaints will overburden the township’s Human Resources Department and open the township up to litigation or costly appeals processes.

Scales emphasized that he supports equal protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In July, the township board amended its fair housing ordinance to include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The proposed ordinance makes discrimination violations complaint driven. If a complaint is lodged, the township would investigate. If a violation is found, a civil infraction and fine would be issued, though at this point that amount hasn’t been set, Wilson said.

Wilson added that the township attorney assured the board Sept. 17 that it had the legal authority to adopt such legislation. Wilson said she is joined in support by trustees John Veenstra and Ron Styka, while Supervisor Elizabeth LeGoff appears undecided.

“Right now, as of the last meeting, it is 3-3 with a question mark,” Wilson said.

However, Dreyfus said that while he raised concerns to "bring out the best information and data from divergent viewpoints," he is in support of the ordinance.

"Armed with the right information and a higher-level perspective, I am now able to confidently move forward with comprehensive protection for all citizens in Meridian Township," Dreyfus wrote in an email.

Wilson said the draft ordinance could be amended to address any concerns.

“This is not ‘feel-good legislation,’” she said in reference to Scales. “We do have the authority to adopt this ordinance and the authority to enforce this ordinance. We are giving our community members that not only work in Meridian Township, but also live here, protections against discrimination that the state has failed to give them.

“It isn’t feel-good legislation by any means. It is what-we-ought-to-be-doing legislation.”

The board will likely take up the ordinance at its Tuesday meeting.

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