Scottsdale abandons LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance pursuit

Scottsdale City Hall is at 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd. (File Photo)

Scottsdale City Hall is at 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd. (File Photo)

Efforts to adopt a nondiscrimination ordinance meant to protect members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in the Scottsdale workplace have apparently hit an impasse as city council members struggle to agree on what size business should be impacted by the new law.

Scottsdale City Council was expected to begin its outreach effort next month on the creation of such an ordinance, however, caveats to the proposed rules would have exempted nearly all businesses within Scottsdale city limits. The future of a workplace LGBT protection ordinance now remains in question, with one councilwoman claiming it’s highly unlikely the issue will ever be revived by the current council.

Linda Milhaven

Linda Milhaven

Scottsdale Councilwoman Linda Milhaven — a public supporter of LGBT equality — called into question in a Jan. 27 internal email the provisions that would have exempted any business within Scottsdale city limits with 15 or fewer employees.

According to M. Brent Stockwell, deputy city manager, the proposal as written would not have applied to 92 percent of all businesses within the city. In addition, the proposed legislation made exemptions for an estimated 86 percent of Scottsdale businesses with fewer than 15 employees that serve customers and are open to the public.

“There are 911 businesses that serve customers and are open to the public with more than 15 employees,” he explained in a Jan. 27 e-mail to members of Scottsdale City Council and senior staff.

Councilwoman Milhaven says she cannot support the legislation as long as it included language exempting businesses with fewer than 15 employees.

“I cannot support an ordinance that has a carve-out for public accommodation based on number of employees,” she said in her Jan. 27 written response to draft ordinance language. “In fact, I believe that this provision does more harm than having no ordinance. Therefore, I withdraw my support to move forward with this process unless that provision is removed.”

Dead in its tracks

Scottsdale City Council last August voted to allow city staff to pursue a nondiscrimination ordinance.

In 2014, the entire council signed a “Unity Pledge.” But a work session discussion last March left some wondering why the city of Scottsdale would not join other Arizona municipalities — including Phoenix, Tempe, Tucson and Flagstaff — and become the 226th American city to officially adopt a nondiscrimination ordinance to protect members of the LGBT community.

In June of last year, the city of Scottsdale sent a letter to 88,000 utility customers encouraging residents and proprietors to sign the pledge and join the council in its support of LGBT rights. A member of city council says close to 50 hateful letters were sent back to the city following the UNITY Pledge effort, which for some on the local governing board convinced them of the need for civil protections.

Scottsdale municipal employees already enjoy LGBT workplace protections. In December 2007 the city adopted Ordinance No. 3765, which prohibits any city employee from discriminating against another employee based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The local governing board was expected to host a formal discussion Tuesday, April 12, on outreach efforts while city staff had created a website for the effort and it appears was ready to launch a communications effort citywide alerting residents to the municipality’s effort.

Following Councilwoman Milhaven’s e-mail response to the proposed workplace rules, Scottsdale City Clerk Carolyn Jagger later that day alerted members the ordinance and outreach effort were being abandoned.

“At the Nov. 17 council work study session, staff was directed to provide a list of deal points, a draft non-discrimination ordinance, and a public outreach plan to the council for review,” she said in a Jan. 27 e-mail to council and top administration at City Hall.

“If at least four councilmembers wished to have further discussion on the draft documents or public outreach plan, the matter could be agendized for further discussion. At least four councilmembers have indicated that they believe the draft documents need further discussion. As a result, we will not be moving forward with the public outreach program.”

According to Ms. Jagger, the matter could be discussed again if staff receives direction to do so from a majority of Scottsdale City Council.

A state-level solution?

Angela Hughey, president and co-founder of ONE Community, says protecting everyone equally in the workplace is good for business.

“ONE Community’s focus is on statewide education and outreach around the importance of fully inclusive non-discrimination protections and why they are important not only for LGBT people, but for all Arizonans,” she said in a Feb. 29 written statement.

“If we want to live in a state that grows by attracting the very best talent, has a strong economy, and is a vibrant place to live, then we must also be open for business to everyone.”

ONE Community is a member-based coalition of businesses, organizations and individuals who support and promote diversity, inclusion and equality for all Arizonans. One of those efforts of diversity includes the UNITY Pledge signed by all members of Scottsdale City Council.

“We are supportive of a statewide solution, as patchwork laws are bad for Arizonans and bad for business,” Ms. Hughey said of local political pressures curtailing local equality efforts.

“We don’t want to create an environment where you get married in one city, but fired in another. Where you can be fully inclusive inside the workplace, but your employees can be refused service or housing outside the workplace. Like Governor Ducey said in his State of the State, patchwork laws are bad for Arizona’s economy.”

Scottsdale Councilwoman Virginia Korte says a local ordinance is not likely to happen.

“Right now, because of somewhat of a logjam, that to me means this is probably not politically doable right now,” she said in a March 1 phone interview. “So, maybe there will be some changes on the city council and maybe perhaps with some new faces we can move it forward. For me, personally, it is time to direct my efforts toward a statewide solution, but that is a long-term project.”

Councilwoman Korte says she is “incredibly disappointed” the planned ordinance outreach effort won’t come to fruition.

“I believe our community is better than this,” she said. “Given an education process for people to understand the LGBT community is not protected by our constitution I think they would embrace this — it just puts us all on the same playing field.”

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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