The Mayor of Fairbanks just vetoed a LGBTQ equal rights ordinance the City Council had passed.
As I've said here before, I'm of two minds on the issue of being "protected" by law in employment, housing and public accommodation. I have lived long enough to be discriminated against in each one of these areas because I'm gay, and I don't want that to happen to my brothers and sisters.
But on the other hand, I don't want to be singled out as helpless, or to have co-workers believe in the back of their minds that I can't be fired if I don't measure up, because my employer is afraid of getting sued for discrimination.
This mayor says the issue is too important to leave to his city council (a remarkable claim on its own) and says the people need to hash it out and vote on it. This issue will be coming more to the fore on a national level in the coming years, so I'd be interested to hear how my fellow Yabberzites would vote, if they lived in Alaska's great interior, or when a similar measure comes before Congress, as it has nearly ever session for the last 20 years.
FAIRBANKS — Dusk descended on Fairbanks on Friday as nearly 200 people
gathered outside Fairbanks City Hall at the Vigil for Equality
to protest Mayor Jim Matherly’s Friday morning veto of an equal
The ordinance, which the
city council adopted Monday by a 4-2 vote, created protections for LGBTQ
members in employment, housing and public accommodations, as well as a means
for potential victims to challenge discriminatory practices in court.
In a column sent to
the Daily News-Miner Friday morning and addressed to city residents, Matherly,
who signed on as a co-sponsor of the ordinance, announced his veto “after much
soul searching, research and examination of all facets of the issues ...”
“I do not take this action
lightly. ... As with most concepts, the details become challenging when they
affect so many people with different priorities and opinions.
is those details that I think require further examination,” Matherly states in
He also states that he
hopes to put the issue to voters in an October ballot measure.
“I believe this question
should be given to city residents that choose to exercise their voting rights.
... this ordinance is bigger than a mayor and six council members,” he wrote.
Fairbanks City Charter section 4.2 gives the
mayor veto power “over all legislative action.” Any veto must be filed in
writing with the city clerk within five days of the legislation being adopted
and “shall recite the reasons therefore.”
The sole reason Matherly
cites in his veto letter states, “It is my intention to support putting
these issues to the voters of Fairbanks in October.”
The council can override
any veto with five affirmative votes. An override vote, if one is to occur,
must be taken within 14 days of the veto. The council cannot alter
the ordinance before attempting any sort of override. Following an
override vote, however, the council can take many actions, including
reintroduction and amendments.
approximately 30 minutes Friday night, supporters of the ordinance
held candles, took turns expressing support for their peers, criticizing
Matherly and calling for him to be defeated at the ballot box. Matherly is
running for re-election to his second term as mayor in October’s
“The only referendum I’m
supporting this year is the one where we walk him (Matherly) next door and
apply for unemployment,” Councilwoman Kathryn Ottersten said, alluding
to the adjacent State of Alaska Employment Services office.
Ottersten, a transgender woman, is also one of the original co-sponsors of
One speaker reminded others “that we have your
back.” Another said, “To the bullied, the battered, the broken down, we say, we
are with you. ... You were born perfect. You are holy.”
Ottersten posted a
statement about Matherly’s veto to Facebook on Friday afternoon.
“This is, quite simply, the
type of anti-democratic, cynical and cowardly act that seems to be increasingly
common in our nation. ... His message to all of us is that there are some
people who should have to beg for basic human rights,” she stated.
During a phone interview
Friday, Matherly expanded on his decision to veto, a conclusion he said he
reached on Wednesday. He acknowledged not taking a strong stance
against the ordinance during council discussion or public debate.
“I believe in the basic
spirit of the ordinance,” he said.
More so, Matherly said it
was the “absolute onslaught” of residents saying, as Matherly put it, ‘I
want to have a say in this.’”
“The people should be able
to make a decision on something this big,” he added.
In his column, Matherly references the nearly
unprecedented level of public interest generated by Ordinance 6093, while
noting a large portion of public comment was generated by people living outside
“While I value the opinion
of our neighbors in the surrounding communities and visitors from farther out,
I want the citizens of Fairbanks to chart their own course and decide how we
move forward as a city,” he states.
The ordinance’s contentious
history began on Dec. 3, when council members Ottersten and David Pruhs
co-sponsored the legislation. It was advanced with little fanfare and was
up for second reading one week later on Dec. 10.
Typically, two weeks
separate City Council meetings, but back-to-back meetings are held in December
so the body can finalize the next year’s budget. The short time frame was one
of the prime reasons the ordinance was postponed until the council’s Feb. 25
By Feb. 25, the council
held almost nine hours of work sessions, received nearly eight hours of public
testimony and many hundreds more correspondences.
Matherly acknowledged that voters elected the
current council to make decisions, that there was ample opportunity for
public comment and that sending the ordinance to a ballot measure could be
considered giving people a second chance to become engaged.
“I think it’s empowering
the voters to become better aware of things and do their homework,” he said.
At Monday’s meeting, Pruhs
and Councilman Jerry Cleworth voted against the ordinance. In his objection,
Cleworth cited a failed amendment that would have required allegedly aggrieved
individuals to seek recourse outside of courts before pursing litigation.
Pruhs’ biggest concern was
the number of employees a business can have and still be exempt from the
ordinance. He wanted a higher number than was approved.
Hayden Nevill founded the
Fairbanks-based group Gender Pioneers, a peer-to-peer support group for LGBTQ
In a statement emailed to
the Daily News-Miner, he writes that Matherly’s move “gives our neighbors
a license to treat us poorly.”
Nevill said that a
“huge majority” of Fairbanksans support the ordinance.
“The arguments against the ordinance were
based on fear and misunderstanding. It’s disheartening that Mr. Matherly has
chosen to legitimize fear instead of legitimizing people,” Nevill states.
In a joint news
release from Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii and the American Civil
Liberties Union of Alaska, representatives state that “the mayor has taken this
deeply misguided action despite strong support from the Fairbanks City Council,
small business owners, other local elected officials and the public at
In concluding his own
statement, Matherly asks for patience and understanding while he prepares a
potential ballot measure.
“I look forward to
receiving continued input from Fairbanks residents and businesses as we go
forward,” he wrote.