Discussion of LGBTQ protections on April 12 Hilliard City Council agenda

A. Kevin Corvo
ThisWeek group
Hilliard City Hall is at 3800 Municipal Way.

Hilliard City Council will continue discussion about how to advance legislation to protect members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. 

That discussion will continue at council’s committee-of-the-whole meeting, scheduled at 6 p.m. April 12 at the Hilliard Municipal Building, 3800 Municipal Way. 

It will be the third one-hour session for discussing the proposed legislation, following meetings March 8 and March 22

In its current incarnation, the ordinance would add marital and family status as protected classes concerning employment discrimination and it would include marital status, gender identity and sexual orientation concerning discrimination in housing and public accommodations, council President Pete Marsh said. 

In addition to that proposed ordinance, Councilman Omar Tarazi said he has prepared alternate legislation. 

The next opportunity to present legislation for consideration – unless a special meeting is called – will be at the next regularly scheduled City Council session on April 12. 

Kelly Clodfelder, a staff attorney for Hilliard, outlined the current proposal March 22. 

Depending on the nature of the violation, some complainants would be referred to state and federal jurisdictions but others would be heard in local courts, Clodfelder said. 

After receiving a complaint, the clerk of council would have five days to send it to the Columbus Community Relations Commission, the Hilliard’s city manager and law director, and to the respondent. 

The law director and an appointed special counsel would independently and simultaneously investigate, and within 30 days would make a recommendation to the city manager to appoint a hearing officer or dismiss the complaint, Clodfelder told council members. 

Tarazi said his proposal "is to create a community mediation dispute resolution center as has been done in many other cities."

"This would involve contracting with a professional mediator on an as needed basis as a service to the people of Hilliard to help neighbors and businesses resolve minor community disputes which may come up from time to time," he said. "This is a simple solution with no need for a 20-page law requiring a lawyer with three pages of flow charts to explain.

"It is cost effective; it doesn't involve us trying to recreate the institutional competence of a federal agency; and it allows us to collect data on the types of disputes which actually come to us to help guide further action down the road."

During discussion March 22, Tarazi said while he supports the intent of the proposed legislation, as well as adding more protected classes to the city code, he remains opposed to the legislation proposed by council members Andy Teater and Cynthia Vermillion that replaces the existing code. 

The legislation is necessary “because it expands important civil rights to a segment of our community that currently does not have those protections,” Teater previously told ThisWeek

Tarazi said he questions the need for a city ordinance because federal statutes provide relief for such discrimination. 

“There is nothing (Hilliard) can do other than a civil fine that doesn't go to victim,” Tarazi said, adding that employees or job applicants who experience discrimination can file complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

Councilman Tom Baker said he is concerned that businesses in Hilliard, especially small businesses, would be vulnerable to incurring legal expenses to defend complaints, even when they are unfounded. 

But Vermillion said Hilliard needs to act where state and federal legislators have failed. 

In a prepared statement, Vermillion rebutted claims that local government should not take up the issue, that small businesses would be the target of frivolous complaints and that including additional protected classes to existing code is sufficient. 

Referring to the proposed Ohio Fairness Act that is stalled in the Ohio General Assembly, Vermillion said, “When our federal and state elected leaders do not act to protect the people, the women and men elected on a local level must step in to ensure fair treatment for all.” 

He said Hilliard’s current housing discrimination ordinance “is narrowly written with regard to legal protections. Our goal is to protect people in three major areas of life: housing, employment and public accommodations.  

“If Hilliard’s current housing ordinance were used, I would be protected when I go to rent an apartment, for example, but not necessarily in my job and certainly not when I go shopping for groceries,” Vermillion said. 

The legislation before council has been more than a year in the making. 

Work on it began in 2019 during sessions of a charter-review commission and continued last year after a proposal to add language to the city code to protect the LGBTQ community stalled, Teater said. 

“Currently, the state of Ohio does not give protections to members of the LGBTQ community,” he said. “Any protections afforded in our state have been enacted by local communities and governing bodies.” 

Council members appear prepared to take more time to consider a path forward. 

“At some point, we have to take action. I don’t know if everything is on the table yet,” Baker said, adding that while “we’re close,” a decision can’t be rushed. 

“I’m not ready to make a call,” he said. 

Teater said more conversation is good as long as “we gain ground.” Vermillion suggested a timetable that includes two virtual public sessions – one on April 28 and one on May 3 – to gather public input before potentially acting on the proposed ordinance in June. 

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com 

@ThisWeekCorvo