I'll be the first to admit that Kirksville probably did not need a revised anti-discrimination ordinance to explicitly add sexual orientation protection.
The tide is clearly turning in that direction anyway on both the national and state levels. The Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. Federal hate crime law includes sexual orientation and gender identity since 2009. In 2011 and 2012, the EEO Commission ruled that LGBT discrimination classified as a form of sex discrimination. There are even a couple initiatives currently working through the ranks here in Missouri.
While I have no doubt that such discrimination does happen here in Kirksville - this is rural Missouri - I see no signs of a great epidemic that requires immediate action.
So for all intents and purposes, the council didn't even need to bring this up. Although it's nice to proactively send a positive message out there once in a while, I can't see where this would change the lay of the land in any substantial way.
But they did. And boy, did they ever. So unfortunately, as a result, the Kirksville City Council urgently needs to pass this revised anti-discrimination ordinance at the August 19 meeting.
Anyone could tell you our city desperately needs industry and jobs. Without such, we rely primarily on the two Universities in town - Truman State and A.T. Still - to pump outside money into our long-flatlined economy and keep us on the map.
Meanwhile, companies, workers and students across the U.S. are figuring out where they want to set up shop. If the Kirksville City Council is serious about creating more jobs and boosting our economy, it needs to be spending all its powers convincing those folks to hang their hats here.
I don't believe that people looking for a place to expand their business or go to school spend one second scrutinizing the city's equal employment and housing statements.
But they would find it impossible to avoid the news articles and colorful quotes the council has stirred up by its actions.
To put this (honestly, rather benign) anti-discrimination ordinance on the agenda for a vote, only to strike it down in a very public and passionate way, sends a clear message to the rest of the world.
No matter your sexual orientation, most people would find that message disturbing.
Widely-respected Truman State University President Troy Paino is concerned that Kirksville will be seen as unwelcoming and exclusionary, and the University has already been facing lower enrollment and dwindling state funds. Former A.T. Still president and long-time advocate for Kirksville at the Capitol, Jack Magruder, agrees. So do our State Representative Nate Walker (R) and former rep Rebecca McClanahan (D) - and to get Republican and Democratic politicians to agree on anything these days is a miracle itself.
Yet this is a community where your elected council member Bob Russell said this in a study session:
"I think it's wrong to say, 'You can't come down and sit down in my restaurant because you're gay. You can't ride the bus because you're black. You can't have alcohol because you're Indian. These are things we've developed as human beings on this Earth. We've made this what it is today. We need to correct it. That's my thing here and I'll stand by that."
…only to vote it down and say this in the public meeting a week later:
"This goes beyond what I was talking about. This goes against all religious belief.”
Would you want to start your business or expand your operations into such a community, when there are hundreds of others vying for your attention with incentives and a wider job base?
Apparently a few churches are now planning to cart in people from out of town to pack the next meeting and show an even stronger opposition than they can muster on their own. Lord forgive them, for they know not what they do. Those same jobbers and students seeking welcoming places to worship have yet another reason to give Kirksville a wide berth.
So the Council may bring a revised version back to the table at the August 19 meeting. Kirksville Mayor Richard Detweiler said this to the Daily Express about the new, chopped-down ordinance:
"So, [while the ordinance may not] have teeth but, you can say we passed a human rights ordinance and [opponents] don't have to be afraid we're going to investigate them."
Setting aside the fact that this is the second time your mayor has gone on record saying he doesn't want to pass laws where people might be punished for breaking them, I'm inclined to agree that it's come to the point where they need to pass something.
To bring it up and strike it down is much worse than leaving it alone. And sadly, amidst this circus, an anti-discrimination law with no penalties for breaking it is better than none at all.
So let's get it passed so we can begin repairing the damage that's already been done to our community's reputation.
And Kirksville: Your city council seems careless and inept. You may not have cared before. But now that you've seen how they can conjure a crisis out of thin air and respond to it with more chaos, what else are they doing while we're not paying attention? I hope to see you at the ballot box for the next election.