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Judge hears from plaintiff trying to block special election on Fayetteville ordinance

by Joel Walsh | October 22, 2014 at 1:33 p.m.

Fayetteville — Washington County Circuit Judge Mark Lindsay heard Wednesday morning from the plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking to block a special election on Fayetteville's Civil Rights Administration ordinance.

Kristin Higgins is a professor of counselor education at the University of Arkansas who teaches a course dealing with sexual orientation and gender identity issues.

Higgins said Wednesday she filed the lawsuit because she felt she was misled and misinformed when she signed a petition calling for a special election on the anti-discrimination ordinance.

Higgins said a canvasser who came to her house told her a signature was in support of the ordinance. She added that she did not read a copy of the petition she signed and did not see a copy of the ordinance attached.

Higgins said when she found out her name was among more than 4,100 signatures calling for the special election, she was appalled.

"My name being on that petition goes against everything I believe in and value," she said.

She added that Alderman Matthew Petty, whose wife was a student in her class, asked her to file the lawsuit. Petty sponsored the Civil Rights Administration ordinance, which the City Council approved Aug. 20.

If the ordinance is allowed to go into effect, it would prohibit discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on a person's sexual orientation, gender identity and a number of other characteristics. The ordinance would also create a municipal civil rights administrator position.

The lawsuit claims ballot language approved by the Washington County Election Commission is confusing and questions the validity of signatures collected by a group called Repeal 119, citing several irregularities.

Jeff Priebe, the attorney representing Higgins, said all petitions should be thrown out and a Dec. 9 special election should be canceled.

Travis Story, general counsel for Repeal 119, argued Wednesday that, if irregularities exist, individual signatures, or, at most, individual petition pages, should be invalidated.

Repeal 119 submitted 802 petition pages containing more than 5,700 signatures to the Fayetteville City Clerk's office Sept. 20.

Prior to a lunch recess Wednesday, the court also heard testimony from City Clerk Sondra Smith about her office's process for certifying petitions.

Lindsay said he would make every attempt to rule on the case by the end of the day Wednesday, although a power outage in downtown Fayetteville may delay proceedings.


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