Just over an hour into its meeting Monday evening, the Royal Oak City Commission voted 6-1 to approve a human rights ordinance on the first reading.
If passed into law, Royal Oak will join Ann Arbor, Birmingham, Detroit, East Lansing, Ferndale, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Saginaw, Traverse City and Ypsilanti in enacting a human rights ordinance.
The commission voted unanimously in November to have City Attorney Dave Gillam draft a broad ordinance to protect against discrimination in employment, housing or public accommodation on the basis of height, weight, marital status, source of income, family responsibility, education association, sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status.
Commissioner David Poulton was the only "no" vote on Monday.
“The overly broad ordinance was once described as a symbolic gesture to prove we are a tolerant city, but I don't believe we need to pass this ordinance do that," he said.
Poulton pointed to a recent city survey in which residents described Royal Oak as a diverse, tolerant and cosmopolitan community.
"I believe the best way to proceed on this issue is to publicly reaffirm our city's commitment to the human rights and civil liberties of all residents and visitors," Poulton said, adding that could be accomplished with a resolution.
The devil is in the details
Mayor Pro Tem Patricia Capello had a number of questions for Gillam.
“I don’t want to vote on an ordinance that I don’t understand," she said, adding, "The devil is in the details."
"I totally support giving everyone equal protection under the law. There is no reason to discriminate against anyone for any of the things that are stated in here," she said. Still, Capello said she had concerns with the way the ordinance is written. While willing to support the first reading, she asked that the public have a window of 30 days to go through the ordinance item by item and make comments.
"I think we want something we can all support wholeheartedly. Something that fits the situation and fits the city without making it overly burdensome from an enforcement and or litigation perspective," she said.
‘We’re not reinventing the wheel’
Commissioner Kyle DuBuc stated he appreciated the thoughtful questions that were raised at the table. "But basically all the questions we have been asking have been vetted at the state level and at the congressional level...There are mountains of case law already providing answers to those questions," he said, adding, "We are not reinventing the wheel here.”
"At its core this is good. This is the right thing to do and is in the best interest of our citizens and our community," DuBuc said.
Mayor Jim Ellison said he would be interested in exploring a Human Rights Commission so as not to overburden the Royal Oak Police Department.
A violation of the ordinance would be a civil infraction, punishable by a fine of up to $500, plus the costs of investigation and prosecution.
The second reading of the human rights ordinance is scheduled for Mar. 4 to give the public time to review the ordinance (attached to this article as a PDF file) and offer input.