City holding special meeting on proposed nondiscrimination ordinance on Sept. 8

On Sept. 8, City Commissioners are holding a special meeting to discuss a nondiscrimination ordinance that has been requested by a group of local citizens.

Commissioners blocked three hours for the meeting to focus solely on discussion of a NDO.

City Commission opts to continue discussion on proposed nondiscrimination ordinance

In July, local activists came to a City Commission meeting and asked the body to consider adopting a nondiscrimination ordinance that is specific largely to housing and employment. The item was not on the formal agenda but public comment on the proposal lasted for about an hour.

A few weeks later, City Attorney issued a legal opinion stating that existing law already protects against discrimination in housing and employment are not matters over which the city has jurisdiction.

The local LGBTQ+ Center responded to the city attorney’s opinion is “misleading.”

They argue that current laws don’t provide full protections and that litigating those violations in court would take years. “Providing an easier and expedited course of action via an NDO would help all parties,” according to their statement.

Under the proposed ordinance from the LGBTQ+ Center that was submitted to the city, aggrieved partied would need to submit complaints to the Montana Human Rights Bureau and after that could submit to the Helena Municipal Court. That likely was model language from the ordinance used in Helena and not updated to reflect Great Falls Municipal Court as the Helena court has no jurisdiction over Great Falls ordinances.

City attorney opinion finds NDO unnecessary; commissioners ask to schedule special work session

Some commissioners asked staff to schedule a special meeting to discuss the issue.

The meeting is at 5:30 p.m. in the Commission Chambers upstairs at the Civic Center. Face coverings are required for anyone attending in person and seating is limited due to COVID restrictions.

Comments may provided in writing or via email by noon Sept. 8 to be shared with commissioners and appropriate staff before the meeting and will be noted in the official record of the meeting. Comments may be mailed to City Clerk Lisa Kunz, P.O. Box 5021, Great Falls, 59403 or via email to commission@greatfallsmt.net.

Members of the public are also able to call in during the public comment periods at 406-761-4786.

“All callers will be in a queued system and are asked to remain on hold and be patient. Calls will be taken in the order in which they are received. Callers will be restricted to time limits. We ask for your patience in the event there are technical difficulties,” according to the city.

City Commission meetings are also live streamed on the city’s website and will air live on cable channel 190.

“Due to limited seating and a time restriction of three hours, written public comment as set forth above is encouraged. If you have submitted written comments, please do not duplicate your comments by also calling-in during the meeting so as to allow time for others to be heard,” according to the city.

The proposed draft NDO is available in full here.

The city attorney’s full opinion is available here.

As of Sept. 4, the city clerk’s office had received about 44 pages of written comment.

About 27 of those comments were in opposition to the NDO. Thirteen were in support.

The comments received before Sept. 1 are available here and the additional comments received by Sept. 4 are here.