POCATELLO — Mayor Brian Blad cast the deciding vote Thursday night to defeat a proposed new ordinance designed to protect the LGBT community from discrimination when it comes to housing, employment or public accommodations.
An evenly divided Pocatello City Council voted 3-3 on a motion to approve the ordinance following another short public hearing on changes made since the ordinance was first proposed April 4. Voting for the ordinance were Eva Nye, Gary Moore and Roger Bray. Those opposed were Steve Brown, Craig Cooper and Jim Johnston.
“Either way I'm going to be loved or hated by half this crowd,” Blad said before casting his vote against the ordinance.
The April 4 meeting on the ordinance featured a lengthy hearing that drew 50 people who testified in support and 15 opposed.
Before he announced his “no” vote, Mayor Blad explained to the crowd in City Hall that it was a difficult decision on his part.
“I believe this has divided the community in half,” Blad said about the proposed ordinance. “I believe we can draft an ordinance that most people can accept.”
In making that statement, Blad opened the door for a new, modified anti-discrimination ordinance. He ordered a work session for May 9 with deputy city attorney Kirk Bybee and the council with plans to introduce this new proposal at the June 6 council meeting.
“My main goal is to bring the community together and it's split right now,” Blad said.
As the capacity crowd left City Hall's council room, a lone man in the back of the room shouted, “How does it feel to be a one-term mayor?”
A somber-looking Blad exited council chambers through a back door that leads to city offices.
People milled around in the lobby and outside city hall following the meeting and a large police presence was visible in the parking lot, but there were no incidents.
Although public testimony was allowed on a change in the language of the ordinance that dealt specifically with procedures for mediation should a discrimination complaint be filed against someone, few people addressed the change.
Bybee had explained the change before public testimony was allowed.
“It has been my distinct honor and privilege to work on this project,” Bybee told the crowd. “The goal has been to strike balance.”
Bybee had removed a line from the original proposed ordinance that called for Idaho Rules of Criminal Procedure to be used in mediation. Since the mediation session under the ordinance was designed to avoid a criminal charge, he said the change made sense. However, its removal also meant both parties would have to pay the cost of mediation.
“Ideally the parties would get together with a mediator and work it out,” Bybee said about discrimination complaints based on gender orientation.
Councilman Johnston asked Bybee why this was the only modification he made to the ordinance first explored at the April 4 hearing. Bybee said he had meet with everyone on the council individually, except Cooper, to discuss concerns and had determined this was one change that needed to be made.
“Everyone has talked to me privately about this,” Bybee said.
The city attorney reiterated that the proposed ordinance was modeled after anti-discrimination ordinances passed in Sandpoint, Boise and Moscow.
“They all criminalize the conduct,” Bybee said about discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Councilman Bray asked Bybee if he had examined a “hybrid” ordinance passed in Salt Lake City that used a civil penalty. Bybee said that ordinance had legal issues for the city of Pocatello that he wanted the council to avoid. He also said the Salt Lake City ordinance lacked relief for victims of discrimination.
When the hearing was opened to discuss the one change, Susan Matsuura of Pocatello took advantage of her time to ask everyone in favor of the ordinance to stand up in support. More than two-thirds of those seated in council chambers stood up. A number of people were already standing because of the lack of available chairs.
Following the short hearing, a unanimous council approved another amendment to add the language, “To willfully commit,” to the ordinance as suggested by councilman Bray.
The divide came as a vote on the ordinance itself was held.
“My vote tonight is not a comment on people,” Brown said. “I do believe there are people in this community that do respect and treat their fellow human beings appropriately.” And Brown said he had encountered pro and con voices from every walk of life.
Cooper said he he had take “a couple of bottles of Tums” as he wrestled with his decision.
“You can't dictate what comes out of a person's heart,” Cooper said.
Councilman Moore said the decision was an easy one for him because it was the right thing to do. Fellow ordinance supporter, Bray echoed his sentiments and said although it has not been an easy process, he supported the ordinance.
Johnston turned to the crowd and said, “I am against discrimination in any form.” That said, Johnston said the he was not comfortable with the wording in the proposed ordinance and voted no.
Councilwoman Nye, who made the motion to approve the ordinance restated her support.
“I believe this ordinance protects everyone and it's a good ordinance,” she said.
In the end, the decision fell on Mayor Blad.