Westerville City Council has enacted legislation to provide equality protections in the city in a process that has evolved throughout this year.

CORRECTIONS: Because of a reporter's errors, the previous version of this story contained factual mistakes regarding Westerville City Council's votes Nov. 19.

Westerville City Council has enacted legislation to provide equality protections in the city in a process that has evolved throughout this year.

On Nov. 19, council approved two ordinances: one to enact chapter 511 of the codified ordinances to prevent unlawful discrimination within the city, and the other to amend ethnic-intimidation provisions in section 509.07 of the codified ordinances. It also approved an item authorizing the city manager to enter into an investigative and mediation-services agreement with the city of Columbus for discrimination complaint services.

Ordinance 2019-18, regarding unlawful discrimination, was approved 4-3, with council members Kathy Cocuzzi, Tim Davey and John Bokros voting against it.

Ordinance 2019-19, regarding ethnic intimidation, and the contract with Columbus was a separate vote and was approved 6-1, with Davey voting against it, according to Adam Maxwell, Westerville’s administrative-services director.

Davey said he dissented because he believes, despite the good intentions of trying to reduce discrimination, the ordinance would cause it to increase.

“I believe this policy will increase and institutionalize discrimination,” he said.

City Council held discussion about a possible introduction of a nondiscrimination ordinance Feb. 19. At that meeting, council members discussed the issue after a resident presented more than 200 cards with statements from residents and those who work in Westerville in support of the idea.

Alana Jochum, executive director of Equality Ohio, a nonprofit that encourages fair treatment and equal opportunity for all people in Ohio, according to equalityohio.org, also spoke before council in support of the concept at that time.

As a result, city leaders approved two resolutions March 19 that were related to equality.

Council approved Resolution 2019-11, adopting a policy prohibiting discrimination by persons or entities within the city on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, familial status, disability, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

Among the reasons cited for the legislation, the text states, “council believes that persons who live, work, visit, or conduct business in the city should treat and be treated with respect and should be protected from unlawful and inappropriate discrimination.”

The second resolution addresses official support of Senate Bill 11, which expands protections for gender identification, sexual orientation and gender expression statewide.

Maxwell said the ordinance regarding unlawful discrimination prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in three areas: housing, public accommodations and employment.

Public accommodation refers to any business that serves the public so a business can’t discriminate against an individual. He said per the approved contract, Westerville will have the city of Columbus investigate the complaint and try to mediate between the people involved in the complaint.

“Since we don’t have staff to do investigation like that, we’ve contracted with the city of Columbus,” he said.

He said Columbus was chosen because it already has a similar ordinance and has a community-relations division available to investigate complaints.

The agreement states Westerville will pay a one-time fee of $1,500 to establish the complaint acceptance and transmission process and pay Columbus $2,000 per complaint, with services beginning Jan. 1, 2020, and ending Dec. 31, 2020, according to the contract document.

It also states it will automatically renew in one-year terms unless terminated, and either party may terminate the agreement for any reason or no reason at all by providing 90 days prior notice.

Several amendments were made to the nondiscrimination legislation leading up to its passage.

One amendment was proposed to change the language of the ordinance, allowing alteration of the use of the terms individual and persons to ensure clarity.

A clarification was added to state what physical or mental impairment does not refer to in the ordinance, such as compulsive gambling; kleptomania, or the inability to resist stealing items; pyromania, or the inability to resist starting fires; and psychoactive substance-abuse disorders.

The definitions of gender identity, gender expression and sex in the legislation also were revised.

The ordinance now states gender identity is “an individual’s having or perceived as having a gender that may or may not be those traditionally associated with the individual’s assigned sex.”

Gender expression now is defined as “external manifestations of gender, expressed through one’s behavior or appearance, that may or may not be traditionally associated with the individual’s assigned sex at birth.”

Sex is defined in the ordinance as “the biological sex of either male or female assigned at the birth of each individual.”

Prior to approving the legislation on ethnic intimidation, additional prohibited reasons for the commission of hate crimes were proposed for inclusion, according to materials from the city.

Commonly referred to as a “hate crime” law, Ordinance 509.07 copies a state statute, which provides that if a person commits one of the identified crimes (murder, menacing, criminal damaging/mischief or telephone harassment) and does so because of race, color, religion or national origin, then the person could be convicted of two crimes: the original crime and the crime of ethnic intimidation, with each crime carrying a set of penalties.

That amendment expands the reasons for which a person could be charged with the second crime to include all of the classes identified in council’s policy statement.

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