Roeland Park will exempt churches and schools from proposed anti-discrimination ordinance

Members of the audience waited for the Roeland Park City Council to return from a 45-minute executive session.
Members of the audience waited for the Roeland Park City Council to return from a 45-minute executive session.

The potential enforcement provisions in a proposed Roeland Park anti-discrimination ordinance became somewhat more clear Monday after another round public comment and a lengthy executive session during which the council apparently worked on details of the ordinance in private.

The ordinance will exempt schools and churches entirely from any effects of the ordinance. Councilor Megan England told the more than 30 people in the audience that the definition of a business had been changed to exclude churches and schools from the definition of a business. “A lot of this has been in executive session,” Councilor Teresa Kelly said, noting the public did not have access to new provisions that the council had apparently agreed upon behind closed doors.

After the council returned from a 45-minute executive session which was called an hour into the council of the whole committee meeting, more comments were taken from the public with several of the same speakers from past sessions taking the microphone. Unlike comments during last week’s council meeting which were largely in opposition to the ordinance, supporters were on hand Monday as well.

Roeland Park resident Michael Poppa, who chairs the Kansas City metro area chapter of Equality Kansas, said it was difficult last week to listen to residents “devalue me … as a human being.” He suggested some of the comments reflected the essence of discrimination in Roeland Park. “Please vote to protect us all.”

Dave Menke, a former Roeland Park resident of 23 years, also supported the ordinance. “I have been a practicing Catholic for 60 years. Bigotry that is cloaked behind religion is still bigotry.” An earlier speaker had contended that, based upon membership at St. Agnes, half the population of Roeland Park is Catholic and needed their “freedom of religion” protected.

In a poll of the council and Mayor Joel Marquardt, it appears there is support to include all protected classes in the municipal ordinance, not just adding sexual orientation and gender identity, even though the others have protection under state and federal law as well. Most of the governing body also approved of mandatory, but non-binding, mediation as a first step to resolving a complaint.

At least four members support an administrative hearing if mediation fails with an option to appeal the decision to district court. The enforcement would be a civil proceeding. At least four members also wanted to keep four employees as the threshold for the size of business that would be regulated under the ordinance.

A vote on a final draft ordinance has been projected for May 19.