A genuinely overflow crowd showed up for the Roeland Park City Council meeting with dozens of people forced to listen to the proceedings from a room a floor below the second floor city council chambers. Once again, the proposed anti-discrimination ordinance that would add protection for sexual orientation and gender identity was the topic that drew the crowds and a large number of public speakers.
Also, much like the council meeting in May, councilors only discussed the ordinance behind closed doors as they retreated into an executive session, citing attorney-client privilege. Only eight members of the public waited out the return to public session.
Monday night had originally been scheduled for a vote on the ordinance, but that is now expected to come at the council meeting in June which will be moved to a larger site. New councilor Michael Rhoades was sworn into office Monday night. His vote on both the anti-discrimination ordinance and a KCP&L franchise fee exemption could be critical. A vote on a new council president also was deferred to allow Rhoades more time to acclimate to the process. Both Marek Gliniecki and Jennifer Gunby were nominated for the role by fellow councilors.
While some of Monday night’s speakers were repeats from several other public comment opportunities and sometimes repeated their message, the council did hear from some new voices and most of Monday’s speakers supported the ordinance. The council chambers held its maximum 50 people and speakers had to be called up from the first floor overflow room where another 30 people could listen to the proceedings.
Sandra Sanchez, the first to speak, did not take sides on the ordinance, but rather chastised councilor Gunby for her sometimes heated exchange at the last meeting with Dale Schowengerdt, an attorney representing the Alliance Defending Freedom. “If you can’t refrain yourself from showing anger and outrage,” Sanchez said, “(you) should consider stepping down.” Sanchez said that regardless of whether she agreed with Schowengerdt’s views, she would defend his right to speak.
Proponents of the ordinance compared it to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. One Roeland Park resident said. “I hope when the dust settles, I will be proud of living here.” A couple of speakers talked about the religious freedom issue that has been raised. Judy Hyde said she is a practicing Catholic and supports the ordinance. Referencing Westboro Baptist Church and the recent Overland Park shootings, Matt Thomas said the ordinance can be a strong statement “that we are opposed to hate” in Kansas.
A woman from Kansas City told the council that her six-year-old daughter is transgender. “(We) need protections for people like my daughter,” she said. Not everyone, though, favored the ordinance. One speaker called it “a monstrosity” and another said “the beliefs of most people of Roeland Park are under attack.”
The council has now taken public comment on the ordinance at multiple sessions, including a community forum.