Petitions filed force council's hand

Grass-roots efforts rally for, against equal rights ordinance

Groups against the city of Plano's expanded equal rights ordinance have rallied enough support to force the Plano City Council to either repeal the ordinance or send it to a public vote.

Council members on Dec. 8 voted to expand the ordinance to include that it is unlawful to discriminate against a person based on sexual orientation or sexual identity.

The original ordinance already made it unlawful to discriminate based on categories such as race, sex and religion for housing, public accommodations, employment or city contracting.

Citizens filed petitions Jan. 20 totaling more than 7,000 signatures, well above the 3,822 signatures—or 20 percent of the number of votes cast in the last regular election—required to send the ordinance back to the council.

The city secretary's office must certify the signatures. Once certified, the city council will decide to either repeal the ordinance or send it to a public vote.

Steve Stoler, city of Plano's director of media relations, said the city secretary's office hopes to have the 909 pages of signatures certified by the end of January.

The city secretary's office is verifying the signatures are from Plano residents who are also registered voters.

The city has set no timetable for the council to revisit the ordinance.

City Council members are not commenting on the issue until all signatures are verified.

At the Dec. 8 City Council meeting, the ordinance expansion passed with a 5-3 vote with Mayor Harry LaRosiliere, Mayor Pro Tem Lissa Smith and council members Pat Miner, Andr Davidson and David Downs voting in support.

Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Ben Harris and council members Jim Duggan and Patrick Gallagher voted against the ordinance expansion.

Plano Citizens United, a group that formed to protest the expansion of the equal rights ordinance, headed up the petition effort.

A spokesman for the organization said the petition effort was mounted through church congregations, Bible studies, door-to-door walking and word of mouth.

He said PCU does not expect the City Council to repeal the ordinance and that the real point of the petition effort was to get the issue to a public vote.

"It's a controversial issue, and people need to be able to learn about the issue and to vote on it," he said.

The spokesman said PCU plans to continue its advocacy efforts leading up to the May election.

"We will continue to fight for freedom of religion and freedom of speech," he said.

Another grass-roots effort has emerged in favor of the expansion to the equal rights ordinance. The effort is publicized on the Facebook page People in Support of the Equal Rights Policy of Plano TX.

Two people—Denise Hamilton, a married businesswoman with five children, and Zachary Kolodny, a Plano High School student—are behind the Facebook page, which after about three weeks in operation had more than 2,600 page likes.

Hamilton and Kolodny gathered volunteers and distributed more than 10,000 flyers in support of the expansion to the equal rights ordinance.

"Like many of my detractors I am a Christian, but I believe in and live Mark 12:31: 'Love your neighbor as yourself', no matter what our differences may be," she said. "In the words of Plano's mayor, Harry LaRosiliere, 'A city of excellence reflects the rights of everyone and discriminates against no one.'"

Another local group, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance of North Texas, has also pledged its support of the equal rights ordinance.

"This update brings Plano into line with corporations and cities throughout the country who recognize that diversity is good for business; treating people fairly and with respect is a common value in all religions; and the majority of Texans and Americans want everyone to be judged equally in the workplace and under the law," said Jeanne Rubin, vice president for GALA NTX.

Rubin said the GALA NTX is prepared to help with education efforts in advance of an election if needed.