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Skip Carnine, a retiring state legislator and former public school administrator, spoke recently to a Northwest Arkansas civic club about what he learned in his six years as a member of the Arkansas House of Representatives. Though his remarks covered a lot of ground, one observation reminded us of what's going on in Fayetteville regarding the controversial anti-discrimination ordinance and the upcoming referendum on its possible repeal.

Carnine said statistics reflecting a legislator's voting record can be very misleading, especially in political campaigns, because even an accurate recitation of facts ignores details that can make a significant difference in how votes are cast. Carnine says in his experience, the titles of certain bills may represent an idea or concept a particular lawmaker favors, but the actual text of the bill leads to unintended or unacceptable consequences. So, a vote against a bad bill with a good title ends up being used against that lawmaker when the next election rolls around.

What’s The Point?

The Fayetteville ordinance establishing a civil rights administrator within city government should be repealed because it’s a bad ordinance, no matter how well-intended it might be.

That's exactly what we think of the anti-discrimination ordinance, also known as Chapter 119, that voters in Fayetteville will consider in a special election Dec. 9. Its overall aim, its intention to protect people -- especially gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people -- from discrimination is admirable and desirable. Fayetteville wants to be -- should be -- an accepting, tolerant community.

However, this ordinance, despite its inviting title and the laudable aims of its supporters, leaves too much to chance for people doing business in Fayetteville.

The ordinance assigns a criminal penalty for discrimination in business or housing decisions, not just for LGBT individuals, but for other classes of people as well. Some of those classes of people already have protections through federal law and civil action while others do not. That's the reason, supporters say, the ordinance is needed -- to protect people who fall through the cracks of federal and state anti-discrimination protections.

But the ordinance as it was passed, and even now as it has been amended, sets out vague parameters about how such alleged discrimination will be adjudicated. It opens the door to frivolous claims of bias, even against businesses and individuals who want to do the right thing. It concentrates far too much power in the hands of whatever individual is charged with determining the merit of discrimination allegations.

It is a bad ordinance with a good title. And for that reason, voters should vote for repeal.

We also urge voters not to be distracted by a number of other arguments on behalf of repeal based on unfounded fears. For example, this ordinance in no way increases the chances of sexual predators lurking in public restrooms. That's a fear-mongering contention with no basis in fact. Nor does this ordinance force clergy to perform weddings against their professed beliefs.

On the other hand, supporters of the ordinance should not assume every vote for repeal comes from a slack-jawed bigot or someone who is eager to discriminate. The text of this ordinance raises legitimate concerns that should be addressed in a dispassionate and fair process.

Perhaps those issues would have been had this ordinance followed the usual path to the City Council's agenda. For some reason, supporters didn't want that. They wanted a quick, emotional decision without the usual objective analysis provided by staff and input from all sectors of the community. As a result, they got a bill they've already felt compelled to amend.

That's a clear indication that this ordinance needs more work.

Commentary on 11/29/2014

Print Headline: Fayetteville's Voters Should Vote "Repeal"

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