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June 18, 2014

Controversial non-discrimination law study moves forward

MEADVILLE — Plans to develop a draft non-discrimination ordinance moved forward for further research and review following a 3-2 Meadville City Council decision at Wednesday night’s council meeting with approximately 200 residents in attendance inside and outside the City Building.

Supporters of the proposed ordinance want council to protect lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT) from discrimination through a volunteer commission to ensure they have equal access to employment, housing and public accommodations.

Those against the proposed ordinance believe it would be costly to businesses, believe it’s against their religious beliefs and don’t desire more legislation in their lives.

Prior to the meeting, Meadville Mayor Christopher Soff informed approximately 75 people waiting in the council meeting room that the room’s legal capacity was 41. This number needed to include the four councilmen, city manager, city clerks, solicitor and the mayor.

Soff asked the overflow crowd to step into the hall where they were welcome to listen to the meeting, along with more than 100 people who were outside the building.

Prior to the public comment, Soff read from a prepared statement.

“I don’t normally start a meeting with a prepared statement,” Soff said, “but one issue in particular on our agenda this evening seems to have taken on a life of its own in a very short time frame.”

Soff said that regardless of previous reports, council wouldn’t vote for or against the proposed non-discrimination ordinance at Wednesday’s meeting. The purpose of Wednesday’s meeting was for council to be educated on the issue, Soff said.

First to speak was pro-ordinance group spokesperson and local attorney Elizabeth Spadafore. She said Pennsylvania’s non-discrimination policy provides protections from discrimination based on race, color, ancestry, national origin, gender, disability, religion and use of a guide dog.

“Today, we are asking that our city provide extended protections to include additional groups and that we process claims arising under the ordinance locally,” Spadafore said.

Meadville businessman Garth Valesky, owner of Valesky’s grocery store, spoke next, presenting council with a petition signed by 27 Meadville-area business owners who are against the proposed law.

“First, I want to clarify that it is not the intent of this petition to discriminate against homosexuals or others,” Valesky said. “The intent of our petition is to oppose an ordinance that has a proven track record of discrimination against businesses and residents.”

Rev. David McAfee, senior pastor of St. Paul’s Reformed Church, presented council with a petition that was signed by more than 650 citizens who were in opposition of the proposed ordinance. McAfee used religious arguments against the LGBT lifestyle.

“I’m not meaning to sound hateful,” McAfee said. “As a pastor I love all people and I pray the homosexuals come to know Jesus Christ.”

During the council discussion regarding the proposed ordinance, solicitor Gary Alizzeo informed council there were 34 municipalities which had adopted an anti-discriminatory law. Among them were Erie and Allegheny counties. There are more than 3,000 municipalities in Pennsylvania, Alizzeo said.

A long discussion followed, but two council members, John Battaglia and Sean Donahue, remained against discussing the proposed ordinance any further.

Donahue asked if the state Legislature was discussing the issue. When he was told it was, he asked, “Why don’t we wait for that?”

Battaglia said he didn’t believe lesbians, bisexuals, gays and transgenders were being discriminated against and didn’t see the need for council to act on the proposed ordinance.

“This is another nail in the coffin of business in the city,” Battaglia said.

Councilman LeRoy Stearns said he needed more education on the subject. Councilman Bob Langley was for studying the proposed ordinance, as was Soff. Stearns, Langley and Soff agreed to hold further discussions on the proposed ordinance.

Soff directed Assistant City Manager Andy Walker and Alizzeo to gather more information for further discussions.

“We know we’re not going to solve this tonight or in the near future,” Soff said Wednesday.

Earl Corp can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at ecorp@meadvilletribune.com.

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