FAYETTEVILLE (KFSM) – Fayetteville’s city attorney will serve as the city’s newly-formed civil rights administrator, he announced during a panel discussion Thursday night at City Hall.
The position will allow city attorney Kit Williams to mediate and decide on disputes concerning the city’s new anti-discrimination ordinance, which bans business establishments, housing agencies and others from discriminating against people based on real or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, age, gender, gender identity or other factors.
Williams will be able to use his position to ensure “all persons within the city have equal access to employment, housing and public accommodations,” according to the ordinance’s language.
A panel created to ensure the new ordinance is properly enforced met for the first time Thursday night, discussing how and when the panel will hear potential cases of discrimination.
The city law was passed six votes to two by the Fayetteville City Council in the early hours of Aug. 20, following about nine hours of public input and discussion.
The Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to Mayor Lioneld Jordan on Aug. 28 saying local business owners were “very concerned” about how the law would be implemented. The Chamber’s letter suggested creating a 10-person panel made up of local business owners, lawyers and members of the local homosexual and transgender community.
The mayor accepted the suggestion, announcing earlier this week the formation of a 19-person panel made up of city officials, representatives from a local gay rights organization, chamber members and members of local churches.
The city attorney told the panel Thursday night he would not bring all cases to the 19 members. Disputed and difficult cases, though, will be brought to the panel for advice and input, Williams said.
Cases will be referred to prosecutors if Williams or the panel make such a recommendation, although local prosecutors may choose on their own whether to consider a case.
Those violating the ordinance could be fined up to $500 by the city. If they refuse to pay the fine, they may face jail time, Williams said while the ordinance was being considered by the City Council.
Much of the panel’s first meeting was spent on privacy concerns for local businesses and those making complaints against them. Some panel members thought the process of enforcing the ordinance should be anonymous to prevent potential victims or businesses from being unfairly targeted by the public or media. One member suggested using numbers instead of real names.
The city attorney said circumventing public records laws is illegal, although he does not expect public documents on complaints to be overly extensive. He said if people are willing to use a government process, they need to be willing to put their names out in the open.
“We have no right to do that. I’m practicing in a fish bowl,” Williams said.
The city attorney said real names of potential victims and businesses would be used in complaints. That information would be available to the public and media, although Williams said he would not go out of his way to make sure the public is aware of such complaints.