City continuing work on draft of nondiscrimination resolution
City Commissioners discussed drafts of resolutions on discrimination and harassment during their Nov. 17 work session and asked staff to work with Commissioner Mary Moe to continue tweaking the language.
Moe had circulated a draft to the other commissioners in September, the morning after they held a three-hour special meeting on a proposed nondiscrimination ordinance. Commissioners opted not to pursue the ordinance, but instead a resolution or proclamation denouncing discrimination.
She said she wanted to collect data regarding discrimination to that they can better understand the situation, versus relying on anecdotes. Moe suggested releasing the data publicly on an annual basis.
Several city departments or programs do collect and publish that kind of data. The Great Falls Police Department has produced an annual report for years that was accessible by request and this year posted those reports on the city website.
Moe also suggested creating an ombudsmen role at the city for people with discrimination complaints to go and get information about resources available to them. The city does employ a fair housing specialist, with a section of the city website, that answers questions and provides resources to those with discrimination complaints in housing.
Commissioner Rick Tryon said he preferred the draft from City Attorney Sara Sexe.
Sexe’s draft includes this language: “Whereas, despite Constitutional and statutory guarantees and prohibitions, the history of our nation, our state, and our community has been marred by lost lives, lost potential and lost hope because of discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin or other protected classes; whereas, although the redress for victims of discrimination provided by the Montana Human Rights Commission and the United States Office of Civil Rights provide the most substantial and expedient remedies for such victims, cities still have a role to play in promoting inclusiveness, celebrating diversity, and condemning discrimination and harassment; and whereas, the City of Great Falls aspires to promote and maintain inclusivity and nondiscrimination in its policies, practices and opportunities and seeks civility, a culture of equity and fairness to all; now, therefore, be it resolved by the City Commission of the City of Great Falls, Montana:
- That the City of Great Falls encourages inclusively, values diversity and believes that everyone in the community deserves dignity, respect and equality;
- That the City recognizes and upholds the intrinsic value of every citizen;
- That the City abhors and will not tolerate discrimination, harassment, or denial of equal rights and privileges, based on race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, and other classifications which are protected by federal and state law;
- That the City will take all steps to support, and operate with, principles of equality, dignity, respect and tolerance, so that all City citizens enjoy the equal rights, privileges and opportunities that are guaranteed by the United States and Montana Constitutions and federal and state laws.”
Tryon said, “I’m not sure that it’s our place,” to mandate that staff do some of the things requested in Moe’s draft, including develop policy and training. He said that he also believed it was outside the commission’s authority to dictate personnel policy.
“What is the purpose of this at this time? Are we trying to address something that hasn’t been addressed within the city itself, or are we just trying to make a statement as a commission,” Tryon said. “If we’re just making a statement that we don’t approve of discrimination or harassment for anybody, that’s one thing.”
City staff told commissioners that they already have personnel policies regarding discrimination and harassment and processes for addressing those types of complaints. She said most are handled at lower levels and that in her 3.5 years at the city, none have come to her desk.
Sexe told commissioners that she has provided information to them in the past on the city’s policies regarding discrimination and harassment and that the legal and human resources departments have worked to educate staff on their obligations as public officials.
Sexe said that a 2017 ballot issue, approved by voters, stated that the duty of creating and updating personnel policies is the city manager’s job. The city manager is the commission’s sole employee and they set general policy through him, but specific policy implementation of the role of the city manager.
Moe said in response to Tryon’s question that she was attempting to incorporate concerns she’d heard from the community over the summer and fall regarding discrimination, particularly in terms of race and the LGBTQ+ community.
Commissioner Owen Robinson said he had concerns about creating language that would set the city up for lawsuits, but that he supported a resolution that made a statement against discrimination.