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Elon’s ordinances get a thumbs up from town’s diversity committee

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No news was, indeed, good news in Elon this week as the town’s elected leaders heard back from an advisory board that had been tasked with screening the town’s ordinances for evidence of discrimination and bias.

In the end, the results of this months-long review by the Committee on Diversity, Equity & Belonging proved a bit anticlimactic when they were presented to Elon’s town council on Tuesday. In fact, the only suggestion the council received from the group was to add a disclaimer about gendered language, which the committee had initially pitched when it was just ramping up its review of the ordinances in June.

Other than this aforementioned recommendation, the committee’s co-chair Wendy Scott had no immediate concerns when she presented the group’s final report to the council on Tuesday.

“When you look at the ordinances,” Scott said as she succinctly summed up the committee’s conclusions, “you don’t see any glaring evidence of discrimination.”

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The committee’s one and only suggestion pertains to a series of so-called “rules of construction” that appear at the beginning of the town’s code of ordinances. This introductory section essentially serves as a set of instructions for reading and interpreting the actual codes.

Among the verbiage that currently appears in this section is a disclaimer which states that any masculine terms in the town’s code of ordinances should “be applied to females…firms, partnerships, and corporations, as well as [to] males.” In order to further clarify the intent of this passage, the committee has recommended new language that declares the terms “person,” “persons,” “they,” “them,” “him,” “his,” and “her” should be extended “to all gender identities, as well as firms, partnerships, and corporations.”

When the committee initially shared a version of this same recommendation with the council in June, a majority of the town’s elected leaders decided it wasn’t worth taking immediate action on this solitary proposal. Instead, the council bade the committee to continue its work and return with a final list of suggestions when it completed its review of the town’s ordinances.

During her report to the council on Tuesday, Scott acknowledged that she and her colleagues had been unable to come up with any additional changes which seemed necessary to eliminate any obvious bias in the town’s code of ordinances. She added, however, that the committee’s members had asked Elon’s town manager to provide census figures and other data that would enable them to examine the actual impact of the ordinances now that they’ve finished vetting their language.

Scott added that, in the future, she and her colleagues would like to expand their review beyond the code of ordinances to include feedback from municipal staff members as well as members of the general public.

“This is about building harmony in the community and people feeling that their concerns are being heard,” she said as she explained the goal of this broader imperative. “So, we’re anxious to get out of the building.”

In response to Scott’s expanded mission statement, councilman Monti Allison pointed out that real-world reforms can take a long time to implement. He noted, as a case in point, that Elon’s town hall still doesn’t have a handicapped-accessible entrance, which forces people with wheelchairs and mobility scooters to enter through the police department around the corner of the same building.

Even so, the headway that the committee’s members have already made struck a chord with council member Stephanie Bourland, who has served as the council’s liaison to this appointed advisory board.

“The work that you have done is amazing,” she assured Scott and her colleagues, “and I would like to move forward [with the proposed rule of construction] because I know you have a lot more work to progress with.”

On that note, the council voted 5-to-0 to send the latest version of the committee’s proposed amendment through the town’s ordinance review process.

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