Elon’s board of aldermen adopted an “equality resolution” last week after one of the aldermen – and several Elon residents and university students – began pushing for a non-discrimination ordinance earlier this year.
The resolution, which was drafted by alderman Emily Sharpe and mayor pro tem Davis Montgomery at the board’s request, was unanimously approved by the board last Tuesday after a motion from Sharpe and second from Mark Greene. The document lays out the local government’s position to not “condone” discrimination, and calls on anyone in the town – residents, visitors, and municipal and private employees alike – to “treat all people with respect and dignity.”
Still, as a resolution, the document isn’t law but a statement to those in the town that the governing body won’t accept discrimination in regards to employment; taxpayer-funded programs; or public accommodations like hotels, restaurants, retail, and government buildings. In the same way that it doesn’t legally enforce non-discrimination, it also has no penalty.
The resolution is, however, the jumping-off point for a committee that the board last week agreed to form. That committee, Sharpe explained, would possibly be comprised of residents, town staff, and an alderman and be responsible for the following:
· Reviewing the town’s policies and ordinances for “discriminatory impacts”
· Seeking public input
· Making recommendations to the board regarding actions related to discrimination, which could potentially include suggesting the drafting of an ordinance
“We didn’t want to just create a resolution and then be done,” Sharpe said during last week’s meeting. “We want to walk the talk.”
Ray asks board to move toward an ordinance
The adoption of the resolution was acknowledged by alderman Quinn Ray as a “step forward.” Still, during the board’s previous discussion in May, the alderman told his fellow board members, “If we’re not moving toward an ordinance, that is not the right thing.”
Speaking to the resolution on last Tuesday, Ray said, “I think this resolution is a good first step.
“I do hope we can look into what an ordinance would look like,” he added.
Some of Ray’s fellow board members, who ultimately approved the resolution, have had reservations about having an ordinance, with mayor Jerry Tolley and aldermen Mark Greene and Monti Allison expressing concerns in April about the weight of creating a new law and what punishments might be in place for those who don’t comply. In May, mayor pro tem Davis Montgomery said that he would be more in favor of an “equality ordinance,” while alderman Sharpe appeared to align more with Ray’s views.
Ray’s call for an ordinance was also met with approval by residents and students in May, when the board heard from 11 speakers – one of them former alderman John Peterson – and received about 35 emailed comments urging the aldermen to adopt an ordinance.
Resolution, ‘model’ ordinance largely aimed at LGBTQ discrimination
While the approved resolution covers a several protected classifications – from race and sex to ancestry and natural hairstyles – the model ordinance shown to the board in May by alderman Ray comes from Equality North Carolina, the state’s oldest organization dedicated to LGBTQ rights. That model ordinance also points to sexual orientation and gender identity or expression as protected classes, both of which also appeared in last week’s resolution.
The focus on LGBTQ discrimination has received more attention since December, when a provision of North Carolina’s controversial House Bill 2, passed in 2016, expired, allowing local governments to enact their own non-discrimination laws. Since then, several municipalities – the latest being Charlotte – have passed their own legislation.
For its part, Elon’s next steps appear to be forming a committee on the issue, a subject that Ray asked town manager Richard Roedner to put on the agenda for the board’s September meeting.