Rochester Hills council denies human rights ordinance

After months of lobbying, a majority of Rochester Hills City Council members went on the record Monday night to say that they are not interested in considering a human-rights ordinance.

A group calling itself Rochester Hills Together asked council to place the matter on its agenda for formal discussion. They argued that a city that calls itself progressive needs to protect its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered residents from discrimination, just as other classes are protected under the state’s civil rights law.

The residents came together in February to oppose a bill sponsored by Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills) that would prohibit communities from extending civil-rights protection to groups not covered by state law.  McMillin introduced the bill in October that would amend the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which bans discrimination based on religion, race, color, national origin, sex, age, marital or familial status, height and weight.

McMillin’s bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where it remains. It would prohibit state agencies and local governments to adopt any ordinance, rule, regulation or policy that extends civil rights protection to classes not already covered. It also would declare any that already exist to be void.

On Monday, for the second council meeting in a row, residents spoke during the public-comment section of the meeting. Afterwards, council President Greg Hooper said he opposes such an ordinance and has not found support for it on council.

“I’ve talked one on one with every one of our council members here, and there is no support that I’m aware of,” he said. “So I have chosen not to put it on the agenda.”

Only Councilman Ravi Yalamanchi has expressed support for the measure. Hooper and others said they do not believe it is a city matter and should be taken up at the state level. Councilman Michael Webber suggested the group could conduct a petition drive to get the proposal on a future ballot.

City Attorney John Staran’s law firm drafted a similar ordinance for the city of Ferndale. So far, supporters say, 19 Michigan cities have adopted similar ordinances, including Grand Rapids and Mt. Pleasant.

“To me it’s a no–brainer,” said resident Linda Davis-Kirksey. She said the ordinance wouldn’t cost the city any money and that the group is not looking for enforcement through punitive sanctions or monetary damages.

“Every progressive city has a human-rights ordinance,” she said. “Under the current ruling, if somebody knows you’re gay you can still be fired. There’s no protection. …

“This is truly citizen-driven. We are a bunch of residents; we’re people that believe this should happen in our community. This is not about trying to advance the cause, except for the cause of human rights.”

Resident Chris Hughes compared the group’s approach to the way council grappled with the deer problem of a few years ago, eventually appointing a citizen committee to study the matter.  “As leaders of our community, you ask us residents to listen to your ideas … you want us to give you a chance,” she said. “It is a two-way street, gentlemen; it doesn’t go one way.  You need to listen to what these people here are saying.”

After listening to Councilman Mark Tisdel say he couldn’t support anything that would take away property rights, Yalamanchi urged the residents to keep at it.

“When women tried to get their rights, I’m sure many men said they did not deserve rights,” he said. “And then we had to fight to get civil rights … There were large numbers that felt there was no need to do it. …

“Every day, discrimination happens in one form or the other.”

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