FAYETTEVILLE (KFSM) – A special election to decide the future of Fayetteville’s controversial Civil Rights Ordinance is set to take place Dec. 9, the Fayetteville City Council decided Tuesday night.
Aldermen set the special election date, but said the Washington County Election Commission may move it to Jan. 13 if needed.
The special election comes after a petition submitted to the City Clerk’s Office last month forced a public vote on a new anti-discrimination measure approved by the City Council the previous month.
City Clerk Sondra Smith on Sept. 26 certified more than the 4,095 signatures needed on a petition to force an election. Smith’s staff had spent all week working to validate the 5,714 signatures that were turned in, eliminating duplicate signatures and those not registered to vote locally, according to the city clerk’s office.
The ordinance banning discrimination in hiring practices and real estate transactions was set to go into effect the weekend of Sept. 20, but was suspended while city officials examined the petition’s signatures. The new city law will continue to be suspended, unless voters approve of the upcoming ballot issue.
The City Council in the early hours of Aug. 20 approved the ordinance that would prohibit local businesses from discriminating against someone based on race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and other factors. It would also prohibit employers from firing someone because of those reasons, as well as ban housing officials from denying someone housing based on those factors.
The decision came after nine hours of discussion of the issue during the council meeting. The ordinance passed by a vote of six to two, with aldermen Justin Tennant and Martin Schoppmeyer voting against the measure.
In addition to prohibiting discrimination by local businesses, the ordinance would create a new position on the city staff that will enforce the ordinance. Anyone cited by this new civil rights administrator could face up to $500 in fines per offense. Anyone refusing to pay the fines could face jail time, according to city leaders.
City attorney Kit Williams volunteered to serve as the civil rights administrator for the first year of the ordinance. Officials earlier this month also named a 19-member panel that will discuss any cases brought to the city under the new ordinance. The panel is made up of local social rights advocates, business owners, Chamber of Commerce members, church leaders and gay rights advocates.
Williams said he will not bring all cases to the 19-member panel. Disputed and difficult cases, though, will be brought in front of the panel for advice and input, he said.