Last month, we asked our readers what issues they wanted to hear the candidates running for local office address ahead of the August primary. Based on the (ample) input we received, we developed a five-item questionnaire for candidates running for mayor in Shawnee.
Today we share the candidates’ responses to question three:
Shawnee has thus far declined to take up a non-discrimination ordinance providing legal protections for LGBTQ+ individuals. Do you believe the city council should formally consider a city level NDO? Why or why not?
Ensuring our city is a welcoming, inclusive, and safe community should be a top priority for all our elected officials. While I believe this is best-addressed at the federal and state level, it has become increasingly clear that this resolution will not occur in the near-term, and I don’t believe it is appropriate to ask these residents to continue to wait for the pending United States Supreme Court ruling for protection. It is time for Shawnee to join our peer cities and begin the conversation on updating our own internal policies, and well as consideration of a more formal NDO.
As an LGBTQ+ supporter, I’ve watched with great interest the work in other local cities, and around the country. I believe that we can accomplish the goal of providing these important and fundamental protections without creating other administrative or legal challenges to the city, our residents, or local businesses, and I would like to see the topic brought up for consideration in the very near future.
When I am elected mayor, it will be a Day One priority to begin work on an NDO that serves the specific needs of our city. In order to be in the forefront of business growth here in Johnson County, Shawnee needs to be the first of the five large cities to show citizens and businesses that we have modern ideas. I have watched with alarm as the Council President refuses to bring this issue up for discussion, and think that the time for stalling on this issue has ended. I look forward to working with our knowledgeable staff, willing councilmembers, and citizens to make sure that it is known that Shawnee is welcoming to all.
Michelle Distler (incumbent)
This is a very personal issue for my own family. I firmly believe every individual deserves protection from discrimination. Because there are some legal opinions and current court challenges that ordinances other cities have established cannot be enforced, we were waiting to see how the current court case decisions were decided so that we could then move forward with something that made sense and can be legally enforced. The last thing we want to do is have something that is a false sense of protection.
This issue should be uniformly addressed by State and Federal governments who currently provide enforcement of anti-discrimination laws through the Kansas Human Rights Commission, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Department of Justice.
The only way we can get true protection for individuals is through uniformity by state or federal law and I feel when these type of laws are done in a checkerboard pattern by individual cities it is giving a false sense of security and protection while not truly offering protection. I also fear it will delay other entities from taking action with the feeling ‘the cities have handled it’ when in reality they have not. Uniformity is the proper way to protect individuals against discrimination and provides uniform compliance. One example for needed uniformity is our school districts having schools in multiple cities.
We are always open to discussing any issue or concern in the community but I believe the Constitution and Bill of Rights should protect ALL American’s human rights. The challenging part for our local communities is the enforcement of such ordinances. There have recently been two Supreme Court cases dealing with this issue that could have impact on local ordinances. I believe this issue should be handled at a State or Federal level to ensure the protection can be enforced and there is a valid process to handle such complaints.
It is my understanding that federal agencies may retain procedures that permit employees to file complaints of sexual orientation discrimination under Executive Order 13087. However, federal agencies should ordinarily process a complaint of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation as claims of sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and through the federal sector EEO complaint process at 29 C.F.R. Part 1614, unless the complainant specifically requests to use a different complaint process, after being advised by the agency that sexual orientation discrimination claims are ordinarily processed under section 1614.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. It is also illegal to discriminate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.
In 2017, a federal judge ruled that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected classes under the Fair Housing Act. As of May 2018, there is an additional pending effort to amend the Fair Housing Act to make this explicit (HR 1447).
Everyone should have equal rights and protections and I do not feel the individual city ordinances establish that and it is very frustrating for everyone. I am open to any and all conversation of how it can be done right.
Did not respond.
Tomorrow we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to item number four:
There seem to be competing visions for the future of Shawnee. Some residents prefer Shawnee remain primarily a residential “bedroom” community. Others would like to see the city taking active steps to foster growth with more businesses and development. Where do you fall on this spectrum?