Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan and University of Arkansas Chancellor G. David Geahart have written the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce to ask it to rescind its opposition to the city’s new civil rights ordinance, which will be subject of a referendum Dec. 9.
I’d unsuccessfully sought a comment from Gearhart Nov. 7 (I finally got it after noon today) because he’s an ex officio member of the Chamber’s board and the UA has its own non-discrimination policy on sexual orientation. Jordan was an outspoken supporter of the ordinance when the Council adopted it. The Fayetteville ordinance covers several categories, including gender and race, but is controversial because it includes protections against discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation.
The Chamber said its board voted unanimously for the opposition resolution, but Gearhart and Jordan said it was never put to ex officio board members. Jordan wrote a separate letter, according to this report in the Fayetteville Flyer.
Jordan, too, said he’d not been notified of a board meeting and would have attended had he known to object. He said the ordinance would be good for economic development.
I would like to respectfully ask that the Chamber of Commerce board of directors rescind its recent action regarding the civil rights ordinance.
Although I serve as an ex-officio member of the board, I was never invited to offer my opinion on the decision to issue a statement about the ordinance. Likewise, other ex-officio members were denied the opportunity to address the issue. However, your media release indicated that the action was unanimously endorsed by the board members. Such a statement created the impression that I was in concurrence with your action.
The failure to include all ex-officio members in the discussion contributes to the perception that the board operated under a veil of secrecy and was opposed to any divergent views. Such a perception undermines the ability of the board to demonstrate that it consistently functions within the best traditions of our city which embraces openness and fair play.
Many people favor allowing the citizens of Fayetteville to decide the issue at the ballot box in December, rather than having pressure exerted by the Chamber. If, indeed, the law is vague and too broad, the court system of Arkansas will clarify the law in due course.
This has become a flash point issue for our city. The Chamber should promote harmony and prosperity, not create crisis. This has strained relations among town, gown, and individual citizens.
Steve Clark, the convicted felon who leads the Chamber, gave a news conference last week at which he outlined what he believed to be shortcomings in the ordinance. (Background: His son-in-law Justin Tennant is believed to be planning a mayoral challenge to Jordan in 2016.)
The Fayetteville Flyer has posted an audio recording of Clark’s announcement. He’s practicing law with the same acumen he exhibited in cheating taxpayers with false expense claims while attorney general.
* Federal and state law make it illegal to fire someone for being gay. He’s wrong. There is no such protection. Some classes — age, gender, race, religion — ARE protected, but not gays.
* The ordinance uses the word “perceived” about anti-discrimination. Opponents think this makes imaginary wrongs a violation. This word is used in the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, Title VII employment legislation and in 20 state laws including that in Arkansas. There’s a good reason. If somebody gets fired for being perceived as black (or old, or a woman, or gay) when he is not, it should still be a violation of the law.
* That the burden of proof is on the accused. Untrue. Any criminal case (and the violation in this ordinance is punishable by only a small fine) must meet probable cause for filing and proof beyond a reasonable doubt for conviction. The ordinance doesn’t change that. The burden of proof is thus on the accuser. Clark seems to have just made this up.
* It is “criminalizing” civil misconduct. True, after a fact, because Arkansas law doesn’t allow civil causes of action, unlike many states. But, again, nobody will ever spend a minute behind bars for discriminating against gay people, however overtly and intentionally.
* The chamber wont’ tolerate discrimination based on “lifestyle choices.” This is a dead giveaway of the chamber’s thinking. Being gay or transgender isn’t a choice, any more than being heterosexual is a choice. Critics of Clark’s statement have some reason to think he’s searched to find legal pretexts for something a lot easier to identify — old-fashioned bias.