Shawnee mayoral and council candidates on the issues: Views on passage of non-discrimination ordinance and taking opposition views into account

Opponents of the idea of an NDO wore stickers reading “Protect Religious Freedom” and “Protect Liberty” to a Shawnee council meeting.

Last month, we asked our readers what issues they wanted to hear the candidates running for local office address ahead of this fall’s local elections primary. Based on the input we received, we developed a five-item questionnaire for candidates running for city council and mayor in Shawnee.

Today we publish the candidates’ responses to item four:

 Consideration of a non-discrimination ordinance with legal protections for LGBTQ+ individuals brought out dozens of residents who voiced both support for and opposition to the idea. Do you agree with the council’s decision to adopt the NDO? Why or why not?


Stephanie Meyer

As a lifelong LGBTQ+ supporter and ally, I was proud to see Shawnee join our peer cities and adopt a full non-discrimination ordinance. 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 became increasingly clear that this resolution would not occur in the near-term, and I did not believe it was appropriate to ask these residents to continue to wait for the pending United States Supreme Court ruling for protection.

I believe that our resolution appropriately provided the same level of protections afforded all others in society, without infringing upon religious freedom or creating administrative or legal challenges to the city, our residents, or local businesses.

Michelle Distler (incumbent)

I believe in equal rights and protections for all people regardless of their sex, race, religion, sexual identity, gender identity, nationality or any other label the world uses to try and define each of us. I know that every resident in Shawnee wants people to be safe and happy when they live, work and play in our city. I believe that these rights should be established at the Federal and State level so we don’t find ourselves in a society where there is a patchwork of different Ordinances. These Ordinances don’t offer the same level of true protections that they do when passed at the state and federal government level. That said, with the lack of response by our State to address these issues, I do believe this Ordinance that the governing body adopted was fair and best for everyone impacted. Within the authority of our local government, it protects our employees and contractors while in Shawnee and it protects individuals in their jobs and housing. Additionally, it does not impede on the religious freedom protections given by the state and constitution.

City Council Ward 1

Tammy Thomas

I did not support passage of the NDO. The action taken by the City Council placed the City of Shawnee in the midst of a social issue debate that is very divided, even amongst the United States Supreme Court.

Jim Neighbor (incumbent)

I agree with the council’s decision to adopt the NDO, and supported the ordinance. Historically, there have been needs/causes that have begged for resolution at all levels of government. However, only after “grassroots” expression at the local level, did higher levels of government gain the wherewithal to address the issue. So it is with the Shawnee NDO. City government is where “the rubber meets the road.” City government handles issues, that usually no government entity above them touch. We’re the bottom of the mountain, stuff flows downhill, stops here, and we deal with it. However, sometimes it’s appropriate to push back uphill on an issue that is very important to your constitutents. The NDO is one of these times, as evidenced by the numerous other cities and educational entities in Johnson County that have enacted similar ordinances. Discrimination is wrong against anyone, anytime for any reason. We all are equal in the eyes of the Creator. The Golden Rule is the goal to live by. The NDO was the right thing to do.

City Council Ward 2

Eric Jenkins (incumbent)

As indicated by my recorded vote, I did not support the adoption of the NDO. I expressed my reasons in detail at the Council Committee Meeting and the Council Meeting. First, I feel the NDO was rammed through with essentially no vetting. It was done in just 17 days. We had no discussions as to legality, enforceability, protection of the rights of people of faith, no discussion of actual occurrences of discrimination in the city and no analysis of potential costs to the city because of lawsuits. We are all aware that there are lawsuits countrywide where ordinances have been adopted. The Supreme Court of Arizona just found the NDO in Phoenix to be unconstitutional in lacking protection for religious liberties. These can be very expensive ordeals, as they often go all the way to the US Supreme Court. I do not believe there was due diligence. Second, I believe our NDO did not adequately protect religious rights of the individual. Third, I feel that actions concerning the granting or takeaway of rights should be supported by constitutional law. We have no constitution at the city level. I believe this issue must, by necessity, be handled at the State, or preferably, national level. Fourth, there was no evidence of discrimination provided at either of the two extensive hearings that were very well attended by proponents of the NDO. Fifth, I believe that social legislation at the local level is a serious mistake. What are the next social issues to be brought before us? Abortion, gun-control, immigration, climate change and so many other contentious social issues that fill our newspapers and new outlets daily. Our focus should be on public safety, infrastructure, and the provision of services to our citizens. Lastly, I feel strongly that if we are to decide who has what rights, in the absence of a constitution, it should be decided by the public at the ballot box.

Andy Rondon

I supported and will continue to support the NDO.

I was at both public meetings for this ordinance and the one thing that I heard from both sides was that no one wanted to be discriminated against. We all have that desire in common. There are already protections in place against discrimination based on sex, race, religion, age, veteran status, etc. Its easy to look at that list and think that it is a comprehensive list. However, that list left out members of the LGBTQ+ community. The intent of that list was clearly to include EVERYONE. Passing the NDO was a simple matter of updating the list to actually include everyone.

To those who say that this should have been handled at the State or Federal level, I 100% agree. But it became our responsibility when it was not handled by the State or Federal governments. I am glad that Shawnee stepped up to the plate to take care of this. You, the readers, need to judge us, the candidates, by our actions. Those who simply want to “pass the buck” to the State or Federal level because they don’t want to deal with it are not the leaders that we need. For me, Andy Rondon, the “Buck stops here”. I believe that is the leadership that we need.

City Council Ward 3 (four year term)

Kurt Knappen

Most importantly, it’s important for me to state that no one within our great city should be discriminated against, ever. I do not, however, support the council’s decision regarding the NDO on the basis that I do not believe that this is an issue that should be handled at the city level. Something of this magnitude, if passed, should be done at the state or national level. It does not make sense for each city to have its’ own (different) ordinances, and it will likely drag our city into litigation which the city attorney is not qualified to deal with. Additionally, there is ongoing litigation with regarding NDO’s involving cities throughout the country already; it would have been smarter to wait and see how these move through the legal system. Finally, it inserted partisan politics created division within our community. Local politics should remain non-partisan and focused on basic government functions limited to local infrastructure, public safety, parks/ recreation and economic development. An issue of this magnitude should have at least been put to a public vote instead of hurried through.

Dawn Rattan

Yes, I agree with the decision.

  • Who are we to judge this when we may be living in sin and doing things against God’s will? God is the final judge of all of us.
  • It is a goodwill gesture that will attract businesses and people to our area when they know that we are inclusive and welcoming. If Good Starts Here, let’s truly walk the talk.
  • As a business owner, I accept all paying customers and the ordinance will not affect day-to-day business for me as a biz owner.
  • To date, ordinances have been passed and there are no lawsuits in Johnson County, contrary to expectations.
  • I believe LGBTQ+ will go to businesses where they are wanted, their needs are understood and their dollars are welcomed.
  • Historically, most change starts with grassroots effort and travels upward to become state or national law—see Suffrage Movement, Civil Rights Movement.
  • A 2017 Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) opinion poll found that 57% of Kansas residents supported same-sex marriage, while 37% opposed it and 6% were unsure. Additionally, 67% supported an anti-discrimination law covering sexual orientation and gender identity. 26% were opposed.

City Council Ward 3 (two year term)

Kevin Straub

I did not support the NDO. Similar laws and ordinances around the country have been used to target those in the creative arts, such as cake bakers, photographers, florists, and wedding planners. Many of these cases are being adjudicated in the courts as we speak, with recent rulings in both state and federal court upholding the right to religious freedom. Shawnee jumping into the fray by passing this ordinance, before these cases have reached their conclusion, was not wise.

Lisa Larson-Bunnell (incumbent)

I was proud to support the effort to pass the NDO in Shawnee. As I have often said, I am committed to treating all residents of Shawnee with respect and dignity. I could not keep that pledge if I didn’t work to protect our LGBTQ+ neighbors from discrimination. I understand there are some who disagree, and I respect their viewpoint. The City staff and the Council worked very hard to balance those concerns.

City Council Ward 4

Kris Durbin

I want our city to be a welcoming and inclusive community for everyone. I believe that decisions on class protections are better suited for the state or federal governments. For that reason, I did not like the council’s decision to adopt an NDO.

Jill Chalfie

I attended both the council committee meeting and subsequent council meeting and listened to the 8+ hours of public comments on the NDO. For the most part, these comments were presented in a civil way, which I appreciated.

While it would be ideal if there were not a need for such an ordinance or for this type of discrimination to be legislated at the federal level (just like protections on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin), that is not the case. Our city leaders, just like leaders in so many other cities around us, had the choice to sit on their hands and pretend that it’s not a problem, or address it. City leaders throughout Johnson County are choosing the chose the latter, and I am grateful.

It might be easy for people not experiencing discrimination to claim that it’s not happening and therefore no protections are needed, or worse, that a certain subgroup of a population simply doesn’t deserve to be protected. We don’t have to look too far back in history to see examples of this. As a city, there are potential economic benefits of being inclusive and repercussions of being otherwise. Businesses and events can (and will) choose other cities – as we’ve seen at the national level. We should embrace the increasing diversity around us and see it as a strength.

While some are concerned about religious freedoms, we just need to choose which lens to view this through. We can choose to put on the lenses of fear, judgement, and rigidity or those of love, kindness, and acceptance. I practice my faith, and it has taught me that showing love to others is most important. I also recognize that there are plenty of non-religious people who show kindness to others not because a certain faith has taught them to do that, but simply because as humans co-existing, its the right thing to do.

I am proud that Shawnee took a stand and did not sit back and address this simply because other cities were. This is the civil rights issue of our time and eventually we will look back and have to ask ourselves what side of history we were on.

Tomorrow we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to item three:

The city is in the process of conducting its first comprehensive planning process. What goals or themes are you hoping to see in the final plan?