Fairway committee will review proposed changes to non-discrimination ordinance language before it heads to council

Fairway administration committee chair Jim Poplinger (left) and City Administrator Nathan Nogelmeier at Wednesday’s meeting.

UPDATE: City Administrator Nathan Nogelmeier told the Post this morning that, following Wednesday’s meeting, the administration had decided against putting the NDO on next week’s council agenda. “Given the number of suggested changes, it was determined that it would be more appropriate for the Committee to continue to work on the draft rather than conduct committee work at the City Council level,” Nogelmeier said.

ORIGINAL STORY: The Fairway administration committee on Wednesday decided to advance a non-discrimination ordinance draft to the city council for consideration at its Nov. 12 meeting — but the committee is making no recommendation about whether to adopt or not adopt the ordinance.

City Administrator Nathan Nogelmeier presented the committee with a drafted ordinance, which he said was essentially a carbon copy of Overland Park’s recently passed NDO.

The committee was first directed to explore an ordinance with legal protections for LGBTQ+ individuals — protections that don’t exist in state and federal law — during the August city council meeting. Committee Chair and Councilmember Jim Poplinger said the motion to consider an NDO could have been interpreted in numerous ways, including that the committee considers the issue and comes to its own conclusion. Mayor Melanie Hepperly said she did not believe that was what the council asked of the committee.

Committee members discussed whether or not the NDO was necessary for the City of Fairway considering a non-discrimination resolution was passed during the August city council meeting. Councilmember David Watkins said discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals isn’t an issue in Fairway, which is why the city council passed a resolution instead of an ordinance. Watkins said that historically, Fairway has taken the reactive approach as opposed to being proactive.

“I know it happens elsewhere without a question, but it hasn’t happened yet in Fairway,” Watkins said. “That’s the question I have: Do we need an ordinance to address something that hasn’t happened? And, I’m willing to be convinced, but that’s my challenge.”

Jenna Miller, committee member and Fairway resident, said the NDO would give legal protections to LGBTQ+ individuals where the state and federal governments have not. For instance, she said there have been ongoing attempts to discriminate against LGBTQ+ individuals within the military, adoption considerations, medical care and housing.

“I think our mission statement talks about being proactive in our community and we’re having a conversation about being reactive,” Miller said. “This is a place for us to be proactive, to ensure that this is not going on in our community. While we may not know about [discrimination], or it’s anecdotal, it’s happening.”

Jim Kernell, committee member and Fairway resident, suggested that putting a complaint policy in place instead of an NDO would offer blanket protections for all residents. Such a policy could be applied to all Fairway residents, instead of giving LGBTQ+ residents “special rights,” Kernell said. Additionally, he said it is a stronger stance to change the discrimination ordinance to all rather than LGBTQ+ individuals.

But Miller countered Kernell’s characterization of an NDO as giving LGBTQ+ residents special rights. She argued that the ordinance wouldn’t take away from the rights of other residents. If another NDO is needed to protect another group, the committee can have that conversation when the issue arises, she said.

Poplinger suggested letting the next administration committee and city council make a decision on an NDO, because whatever the current council decides might be changed when the new council is seated. Three new councilmembers will take office as a result of Tuesday’s elections. Hepperly said the current city council sent it back to the current admin committee, and a decision had to be made.

“This is an important issue,” Hepperly said. “It’s worth beating ourselves up over it. That’s why we’re here tonight.”

The committee moved on to discuss edits to the draft, such as including protections for the person accused of violating the provisions of the NDO. Since the committee would not see the final draft, after edits had been made, the committee chose to send it forward to city council without a recommendation to adopt or not adopt.