EUREKA TOWNSHIP — After the Eureka Township board held a “closed session” to discuss concerns over a non-discrimination ordinance last month, a Greenville resident asked for an apology and for the board to move forward with his request for the ordinance.
At June’s meeting, Justin Barr, a student from Greenville High School who was asked by a township board member to attend a meeting to share how he is trying to make a difference, asked the board to draft a non-discrimination ordinance.
The board discussed the issue and said they would look into the matter. At the end of the meeting, a request was made by Trustee Jeremy Austin in which he cited a “personal situation” to enter into a closed session and the board granted the request.
It was later determined the reasoning was not allowable under the open meeting act. The Daily News requested the minutes of the “closed session” via the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA). The minutes stated: “Trustee Austin expressed a concern about the resolution requested by the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) and the board discussed whether the resolution would violate Michigan law.”
Barr addressed the incident at Monday night’s meeting.
“I am extremely disappointed in this body,” Barr said. “Now, I am asking of this body to take further action during new business discussion on the nondiscrimination ordinance and move forward with drafting and discussing such an ordinance. I am also asking the township to publicly apologize, preferably in the paper, for the violation of state law of providing public transparency and violating the trust of the people in Eureka Township.”
Austin responded with an apology to the board.
“First of all I would like to apologize … because it was my ignorance of the procedures for a closed meeting that brought this into effect,” Austin said. “This is my seventh meeting, so I am still learning.”
Austin went on to defend his statements in the closed meeting.
“It was a personal issue,” he explained. “As far as this board, I apologize to the board because I am sorry to create that embarrassment that it has been for the past few days and weeks. (I) certainly meant no harm, it was just whether or not we had the jurisdiction obviously to deal with such matters based on Michigan law.”
Supervisor Rodney Roy said there are certain state laws that do not prohibit discrimination and the board is bound to those laws. Barr responded by explaining how other Michigan governing bodies have proceeded with a nondiscrimination ordinance by sublimating the state law.
“It would be a little contradictory,” said Austin, citing Michigan Law 750.158 regarding crime against nature or sodomy. He cited: “Any person who shall commit the abominable and detestable crime against nature either with mankind or with any animal shall be guilty of a felony …”
“That was my question,” Austin said. “That is why I brought it to the board.”
After an argument arose between Austin and Barr on whether that law was enforceable, Roy said he wanted to gather more information from lawyers and the Michigan Township Association (MTA) before making a decision on the ordinance, where he plans to have an answer for Barr by next month.
Many of the board members said the township does follow a guideline to “treat all people with dignity, respect and impartiality, without prejudice or discrimination.”
However, Barr said that does not protect from LGBT people from being fired at a business or being denied a house because of sexual orientation, which is why he is asking the township to consider a non-discrimination ordinance to prevent such actions from happening.
At the end of the meeting, Sammy Jones-Darling addressed the board, saying he was furious over the board’s take on Barr’s request.
“I am not yet a resident of Eureka Township, although I am considering very likely to move here, and I would just like to say, to use a law struck down 10 years ago by the United States Supreme Court that made my life illegal, is deploring to me,” said Jones-Darling, noting he was insulted by Austin for citing that particular state law and for not wanting to “protect the residents.”
“I find that a complete insult, and honestly, in my opinion, you should be recalled,” Dariling said.
After the meeting, Barr said he too was frustrated with the board and by what Austin had to say.
“I was insulted by the idea that an elected official would go to such lengths to try and prove a personal point about public policy as to use a defunct law,” Barr said. “A public official should not use his or her beliefs to dictate how they govern, but should let laws dictate how they govern. They should also make sure that they understand the laws and if they are still enforceable.”