A Prairie Village city councilman’s planned introduction of a non-discrimination ordinance that would provide protections for members of the LGBTQ community was delayed Monday when a string of late cancelation by other members of the governing body resulted in a lack of a quorum for the city council meeting.
Tucker Poling said he planned to introduce the non-discrimination ordinance to ensure protections for LGBTQ individuals that are not currently provided under state or federal law. The ordinance would make it illegal to discriminate based on race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, gender identity or military status in employment, housing or public accommodation — that is, providing goods or services to people.
“Right now, there’s a gap in state and federal law that leaves gay and transgender people from protection from discrimination,” Poling said. “This ordinance covers that gap.”
Councilman Chad Andrew Herring helped Poling author a memorandum that was part of Monday’s council packet laying out the rationale for the ordinance. Poling and Herring had also secured letters of support for the initiative from the NEJC Chamber, the MainStream Coalition and Colonial Church. And Kaitlin Vaughn, a lesbian who has lived in Prairie Village with her wife for two years, was set to give testimony before the council at Monday’s meeting.
But at 3:39 p.m., City Administrator Wes Jordan sent a message to all members of the council saying that the planned meeting would have to be canceled due to lack of quorum. To achieve quorum, eight of the city’s 12 city councilmembers must be present.
Councilmen Dan Runion and Andrew Wang were both in Washington, D.C., on previously scheduled trips and Councilman Terrence Gallagher has been dealing with a family medical issue for some time.
Councilwoman Sheila Myers said Tuesday morning that a family issue surfaced Monday afternoon that forced her to cancel. She said she was not aware that Gallagher, Ted Odell and Brooke Morehead had canceled as well.
“It is unfortunate and I apologize for any inconvenience to members of the community who were eager to voice their support of the ordinance and to hear the council discussion,” Myers said. “However unfortunate that is, the ordinance will be discussed at a future date and I look forward to hearing from our residents, city attorneys and businesses. I want PV to be a welcoming community for all people. Sexual orientation and gender identity should never prevent anyone from living and working where they want. Sexual orientation and gender identity should never prevent anyone from living and working where they want.”
Councilmembers Ted Odell and Brooke Morehead have provided little detail so far as to what led to their absences. Jordan sent messages to members of the council inquiring about attendance after noon on Monday. Odell sent a text to city staff at 2:04 p.m. saying “I cannot attend.” Morehead sent an email at 3:36 p.m. saying “There is a family matter that has come up and I will not be at the meeting tonight.”
Odell and Morehead have not yet responded to an inquiry sent Monday evening about the reasons for their absences.
“Highly, highly unusual”
Poling called the string of last minute notifications of absence “highly, highly” unusual, and pointed out that city statute allows councilmembers who cannot attend a meeting in person to call in to participate remotely.
“I hope there was not procedural gamesmanship going on,” Poling said. “But these very last minute cancelations raise concerns about whether there was any.”
Poling said he was not making any accusations, but that he was disappointed by the late cancelations because there were multiple residents and stakeholders planning to attend.
“I’m disappointed that we had this rash of last minute cancelations and I would like to know why,” he said. “This is a real issue for real people in Prairie Village. That’s why I planned to bring the ordinance forward.”
Myers said she hoped the council could move forward with discussion of the proposal in a collaborative manner.
“It is important for us to work together toward this goal with goodwill and compassion,” she said. “Ugly accusations and innuendos do not foster a healthy discussion.”
The city could either move the non-discrimination ordinance to the agenda of an upcoming meeting that’s already planned, or it could call a special meeting. Runion sent a message to Jordan and Mayor Laura Wassmer inquiring about the process for setting a special meeting, saying he would likely support one.
The council’s October meetings will be Oct. 1 and Oct. 15. But with the new home design guidelines recommended by the planning commission last week set to be taken up by the council in October, there are already lengthy discussions set to take place, so city staff will have to consider when best to reschedule the non-discrimination ordinance for discussion.
Four years ago, Roeland Park passed an ordinance similar to the one Poling is set to introduce after months of deliberation. The ordinance drew opposition from some who said it would prevent religious institutions from adhering to church doctrine. Others raised questions about how much time and money the city would need to spend to enforce the ordinance once it was on the books.
At least two members of the Roeland Park council at the time said they had received threats for their support of the measure. Roeland Park’s council initially rejected the ordinance on a narrow vote. It passed a month later with a tie-breaking vote from then-Mayor Joel Marquardt. But organized opposition to the measure persisted, with a group of residents organizing an unsuccessful effort to repeal the law.