Controversial Civil Rights Meeting To Remain At Fayetteville City Hall

Photo courtesy of the City of Fayetteville.

Photo courtesy of the City of Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE (KFSM) – Despite concerns over whether the venue would be big enough for the crowds, Tuesday’s Fayetteville City Council meeting will remain at City Hall.

Aldermen on Monday night considered moving the next day’s meeting to a bigger venue, but unanimously decided against the change because of safety issues.

The council is scheduled Tuesday night to discuss whether to add a civil rights administrator for the city. The created position would use city powers to uphold proposed anti-discrimination rules for local businesses.

(Click here to read the proposed ordinance)

The council chambers were filled to standing-room only Aug. 5, the last time aldermen discussed the proposed ordinance. More people are expected to show up to Tuesday’s meeting, prompting the city to consider moving the meeting to the larger Fayetteville Town Center for a rental rate of $2,000.

The council members voted 8-0 to keep the meeting at City Hall, following concerns over whether the city would be able to stream the meeting from the Town Center online, as is customary. Some aldermen also said moving to a larger venue could create safety issues because of the large number of people expected to attend. It would be easier to manage the large numbers at City Hall, they said.

The amended ordinance concerning the creation of a civil rights administrator must go through three readings before it can be adopted by the city. Tuesday night’s meeting will mark the third reading, after which aldermen may choose whether to approve the proposal.

That ordinance would officially create a civil rights administrator, who would be able to use the city’s powers to ensure “all persons within the city have equal access to employment, housing and public accommodations,” the proposal states. The proposal states it would ban business establishments from discriminating against people based on real or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, age, gender, gender identity, gender expression, familial status, marital status, socioeconomic background, religion, sexual orientation, disability and veteran status.

The proposed ordinance also bans discrimination measures while employing a person or conducting a housing or real estate transaction.

Spectators last meeting overwhelmingly spoke out against the proposed ordinance, saying it violates First Amendment rights by forcing private businesses to treat customers a certain way. Several people also spoke out in favor of the proposal, saying it protects those who otherwise might be discriminated against by local businesses and housing officials.

The City Council has changed several portions of the original proposal, including striking from the ordinance a section that would have made it unlawful for businesses to post or print materials which might make certain people feel unwelcome or undesirable. The change came after city attorney Kit Williams said the section could be seen as perpetuating prior restraint against First Amendment rights.

Several local pastors and church leaders spoke out last meeting, after which the council exempted churches from having to conduct ceremonies or organized events that might hold values or ideas different from the churches.

Councilmember Sarah Marsh attracted boos and criticism from the audience last meeting after saying she was “ashamed there is so much darkness in the heart of this community,” following the public comment portion of the council meeting.

Despite the contention between Marsh and audience members at last meeting, she later said her hope is the ordinance brings the people of Fayetteville together.

“We are hoping that it will encourage a community of compassion and inclusion, where everybody has equal opportunity to succeed,” she told 5NEWS. “If someone felt they were discriminated against, they could contact the civil rights administrator and air their grievances.”

The amended ordinance was originally proposed by Alderman Matthew Petty because he said there are instances of discrimination in Fayetteville that need to be addressed in an official capacity.

The proposal brought protests over the weekend, as those against the ordinance gathered on the Fayetteville Square on Saturday. Rally-goers said they felt their basic rights were being violated.

Marsh said she believes the ordinance upholds anti-discrimination measures while exempting many of those who have been most vocal against the proposal.

“I would encourage anyone to go and actually read the text of the ordinance,” she said. “We have adopted specific exclusions for religious associations and institutions.”

Tuesday night’s meeting is set to begin at 5:30 p.m.

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