Seven city volunteers are not standing for Scottsdale to flash its dirty underbelly of hate — especially by elected officials — as the Human Relations Commission has developed, and is asking for City Council’s blessing on, two recommended non-discrimination ordinances.
The first proposed ordinance would offer protections against people based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and other classes of residents. The second applies specifically to elected and appointed officials of the City of Scottsdale, and embeds an anti-harassment, non-discrimination and non-retaliation policy.
The move is in part motivated by a desire to keep Scottsdale competitive both from a tourism and business standpoint as companies and visitors are increasingly scrutinizing how governments behave, according to a letter accompanying the recommended ordinances.
The idea of a non-discrimination ordinance isn’t new for Scottsdale. Various city officials have tried to implement one through the years. The most recent attempt was in 2014 in the pursuit of equal rights for members of the LGBTQ+ community.
The August 2020 ordinance is coming with the backdrop of the U.S. living through months of social unrest across the country as protests and riots flared following several high-profile police shootings of Black men and women.
An interview request with Human Relations Commission members was met with a copy of a joint letter sent to Mayor Jim Lane and City Council on Aug. 17 from Commission Chairwoman Janice Shimokubo and Vice Chairwoman Emily Hinchman.
“I understand you have contacted members of the Human Relations Commission regarding the recommendations they made to the City Council via the attached memo. Chair Janice Shimokubo asked that I provide this to you and would prefer for the letter to stand as the commission’s statement,” said Scottsdale spokesman Kelly Corsette in an email to Independent Newsmedia.
While the letter to Scottsdale’s elected officials outlines the ordinance’s background and why now is the time to act, passion for the idea came during the Commission’s August meeting when discussing the proposed ordinances.
“With our climate the way it is right now, I do feel it’s important to pass both. It’s regardless of any election. This is to serve as a future notice for all elected officials,” said Ms. Hinchman during the Aug. 10 meeting.
Commissioners worked through a handful of scenarios and ideologies while crafting the proposed ordinances.
“If someone retweets or reposts something that supports something that someone else in the city doesn’t necessarily agree with, or sees them as a hate group or something that is reverse discrimination — I could see that as potentially being problematic in the sense that in our duties to try and promote diversity and other standings it creates more division,” said Commissioner Stuart Rhoden.
In their letter, Ms. Shimokubo and Ms. Hinchman say they recognize former nondiscrimination ordinances efforts were unsuccessful, but state those issues are no longer valid.
“We recognize that prior efforts at adopting a nondiscrimination ordinance in Scottsdale were not successful primarily because of concerns about imposing additional requirements on local businesses,” the letter states. “However, such concerns have been addressed in a recent Supreme Court decision (Bostock v. Clayton County), as a result, this should not be an objection to adopting an ordinance now.”
That ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court from earlier this year found that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act protected people from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
In 2014, the Scottsdale City Council signed a “Unity Pledge” in support of LGBTQ rights. At the time, the city encouraged residents to also sign the Unity Pledge, which garnered 240 business and 540 residential signatures immediately.
It was reported nearly 50 hateful letters were sent back to the city following the Unity Pledge effort.
In 2015, a proposed nondiscrimination ordinance to provide legal protections for people of all races, genders and orientations failed to garner support from city leaders.
Today, there are five Arizona municipalities offering a comprehensive LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance — Flagstaff, Phoenix, Sedona, Tempe and Tucson. Scottsdale is not among them.
“We don’t want to wait,” Ms. Hinchman said. “We are planning on moving forward with this.”
In August, the Human Relations Commission cast two unanimous votes to include both proposed recommendations into one document.
After some discussion, the Commission agreed to ask for a City Council response and asked for action by a certain date.
The first recommended ordinance prohibits discrimination in employment and public accommodations and expands prohibitions in fair housing to certain people.
The ordinance includes employment; housing; public accommodation; enforcement; and protection of rights and freedoms.
The ordinance prohibits employment and housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, creed, sex, religion, national origin, or ancestry, the following: ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
The document also states the proposed ordinance should guarantee protection of First Amendment rights, including freedom of speech and religious expression; and is not intended to limit other rights, protections or privileges available under state or federal constitutions and law.
The Commission recommends the city actively enforce complaints of discrimination in relation to ethnicity, age, race, sex, gender, national origin, religious belief, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
Valid complaints would go through a third-party mediation process, charges would be civil, not criminal, and would include warnings and incremental fines maxed at $2,500.
The second recommendation would establish an anti-harassment, nondiscrimination and non-retaliation policy that would apply to Scottsdale’s elected and appointed officials.
The policy includes nine bullet prohibitions for Scottsdale elected and appointed officials while working in their official capacities, including:
The policy also sets investigation parameters for valid complaints of discriminatory behavior by elected and appointed officials.
After investigation, valid complaints would be voted upon by the full City Council, the proposed ordinance states. A majority Council vote would determine whether the official violated the policy.
Like the city’s Code of Ethical Behavior, the City Council could vote to remove the appointed official from their respective board or commission, the ordinance states.
The Scottsdale policy would limit sanctions to a formal vote by the City Council regarding whether the person violated the policy.
The proposed ordinance for elected officials also states: “This policy would focus solely on discriminatory, prejudicial or racist language or behavior and does not impose overarching restrictions on the guaranteed protection of First Amendment rights, including freedom of speech and religious expression, and is not intended to limit other rights, protections or privileges available under state or federal constitutions and law.”
Within the written letter signed by Chair Shimokubo, and Vice Chair Hinchman, the Human Relations Commission states “there has never been a more important time than now during the local and national discourse on race.”
While equality and social justice are not new subjects, recent events have brought new, widespread and intensified attention to these issues, the letter states.
“It is against this backdrop that the Scottsdale Human Relations Commission has carefully considered policy recommendations to ensure that hate is not tolerated in Scottsdale,” the letter states.
The letter leans heavily on the importance of offering an equal landscape for Scottsdale businesses and organizations.
“What previously attracted new businesses, residents and tourists has, in many cases, evolved and require municipalities to consider fundamental changes,” the letter states.
“As the national discourse on race continues, people and companies expect equality, basic fairness, and equity in the places they live, work and visit. Our city, for all its other virtues and positive attributes, lacks policies to ensure basic necessities.”
Scottsdale needs to be on equal footing to continue to be a competitive force, the letter states, pointing to competitor tourism destinations with non-discrimination ordinances in place.
“The two proposals before you provide an opportunity for the City Council to write another chapter in the city’s profiles in courage. The time for change is now and we urge you to act swiftly,” the HRC leaders stated.