EUREKA TOWNSHIP — The Eureka Township Board voted to not pass a proposed non-discrimination ordinance Monday night.
Board members believe they already have policies in place to protect all people and were advised by legal council to not label specific groups of individuals.
The board took in much discussion about a non-discrimination ordinance that was originally proposed by Greenville High School senior Justin Barr earlier this summer.
The vote against the ordinance was 6-0. Treasurer Cindy Hanson was not present at the meeting.
‘Everybody should be treated equal’
Eureka Township Supervisor Rodney Roy said he contacted the township’s attorney along with the Michigan Township Association (MTA) attorney and inquired about a non-discrimination ordinance.
“They recommended that with the discrimination clause or quote that we have and that you see on the bottom of our agenda and also with the governance plaque from the MTA that we’re covered,” Roy said. “He said if you go into labeling people, when you’re actually putting a label on them, you are taking away their equal. Everybody should be treated equal. If you label them, they are not equal anymore.”
The quote Roy referred to states, “Eureka Charter Township will treat all persons with dignity, respect and impartiality, without prejudice or discrimination.”
However, Sam Jones-Darling, who has been working with Barr to have local governing bodies consider a non-discrimination ordinance, said that quote and pledge to the MTA only applies to the governing body at the township hall and does not prevent business owners, retailers or realtors inside the township from discriminating against a person based on sexual orientation.
“I am greatly saddened by the actions tonight taken by the Eureka Township Board,” Jones-Darling told The Daily News after the meeting. “In their 6-0 vote tonight, they affirmed to the citizens of Eureka Township, the county and the state that in Eureka Township it is perfectly OK by them for someone to be denied a house, employment or service because they are gay.”
Barr was unable to attend Monday’s meeting due to previous engagements.
“Although I am greatly disappointed at the trustees’ actions tonight that have solidified my presence in Eureka Township as a second-class citizen, I am not surprised,” Barr told The Daily News after the meeting. “From the start, the township had difficulty understanding any aspect of the legality of the proposed non-discrimination ordinance, let along their own procedures.”
Barr blames ignorance as being a key factor in the township’s decision.
“In my mind, they failed to understand what the ordinance would do, which is to protect all citizens of the township from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc.,” Barr said. “Because of their ignorance on this issue, I can still be evicted from my house, forced to leave a business or fired from a job because I am gay.”
According to Roy, if a person is discriminated against he would like to know about it, so the situation can be turned over to the sheriff’s office for review.
Montcalm County Sheriff’s Deputy Douglas Houser said those complaints would be investigated by the department, then handed over to the county prosecutor who would study the case and issue a warrant, deny the request or ask for more investigation.
“It’s based on priority,” said Houser, noting that the prosecutor’s office receives several complaints from all over the county on various levels of severity and more serious claims will be attended to before other claims. “But, they do all get responded to.”
Before voting on the motion, Trustee Brad Kelley asked multiple times to clarify that the recommendation from Roy was based on legal advice from the township’s attorney and the MTA attorney. Roy responded “yes” each time.
‘Good arguments on both sides’
Liberty Baptist Church Pastor Michael Austin addressed board members before they voted on the motion regarding a letter he wrote after July’s meeting asking the board to not consider the ordinance. He stressed key statements in his letter and encouraged the board not to consider the ordinance.
“There are good arguments on both sides,” Roy said. “I think it needs to start in Lansing. The rules and regulations we follow come out of Lansing. I can see where you are coming from. I personally feel we are covered with what we have.”
Darling-Jones asked the board one last time to consider waiting another month to ask the MTA about Kalamazoo Township, which recently passed a non-discrimination ordinance, and, if Eureka Township were to adopt the same one, whether it would do the things he and Barr have been saying it would do.
“That’s what I am begging you as an elected official to ask them,” Jones-Darling pleaded.
Clerk Linda Ruwersma said the board received many letters against the ordinance and the board should listen to its residents.
“For one thing, you don’t even live in our township and we have gotten a lot of letters and we have not gotten any in favor of a non-discrimination ordinance, but many against it,” Ruwersma told Jones-Darling. “As a board, we represent the residents of Eureka Township and for that reason is the reason I made a motion that we will go by what MTA has already recommended. We do not need to go back to them and let them know about a case in Kalamazoo or anywhere else – they are very aware of what is going on in Michigan.”
“As a young adult still reviewing looking for a place that I can call home, it is clear to me that Eureka Township will not be that place,” Jones-Darling said. “All I and so many others were asking for was protection.”
Barr and Jones-Darling are looking forward to going through a similar process with the Greenville City Council and hoping the city will adopt a non-discrimination ordinance in the near future.
“On the bright side, I am happy that Greenville has been taking the proper steps to make sure all of it’s citizens, visitors, workers and future residents are protected against discrimination,” Jones-Darling said.
Barr agreed, saying his focus is now getting an ordinance passed in Greenville.
“Our time and energy is better spent focusing on getting an ordinance passed in Greenville, rather than arguing with people over an issue they simply do not understand,” Barr said.