SENOIA, Ga. - On what was the seven-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting, the city of Tucker sought to shore up protections of the LGBTQ+ community, among others, by voting on a non-discrimination ordinance. The mayor left the room as the council voted Monday night.
Mayor Frank Auman has been long opposed to NDO. He claims the ordinance, which locally safeguards federally protected classes, such as race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin and disability, would actually restrict religious practices. The ordinance holds businesses and public places to the standard of not discriminating based on those protected classes.
During Monday’s meeting, each council member voiced their support, and thanks for the hard work put into crafting the ordinance.
"I think that we have to make it clear that we have to represent all the people in our community," said Alexis Weaver, who helped craft the law.
After comments from the council, the mayor offered a series of amendments to the ordinance. One was to add political party affiliation as one of the protected classes. The mayor claims one business does not allow even allow a certain party to patronize the business.
The mayor also tried to offer an amendment which could open up religion as a defense against some discrimination.
"The intention is that a respondent could come into the hearing or reply in the form that’s provided that he or she holds genuinely bona fide personal beliefs that would be forced by the government to be violated were this ordinance enforced in that specific case," the mayor said. "Basically, it makes a valid defense against of whatever type under this amendment."
"No, and I’m going to say this opens it up to someone’s personal belief that Jewish people deserved to be served at their restaurant, or Black people, or Hispanic people," said council member and mayor pro tem Anne Lerner, who helped draft the ordinance. "And so, I think this is very, very broad."
Lerner admitted that the US Supreme Court has a ruling on a case about that same thing and the city might have to change their ordinance after, but for now, she was opposed to the change.
"But for now, it’s OK? This ordinance will have the effect of causing some people to subvert their own closely, genuinely beliefs to the language responses to this ordinance," the mayor retorted.
"Some people have to do that now under the federal laws as well," Lerner responded.
The mayor also attempted to put a time limit and other expirations on the NDO.
Each one of the mayor’s motions died without a second from the council.
Mayor Auman then went in-depth into why he opposed the measure. Summing it up that the ordinance does not create actual solutions.
"If there are any other comments, I’ll take them, but then we’re going to take a break," the mayor said.
"I’m gonna call the question," Lerner proposed, to which Weaver offered a second.
"Alright, we’re going to take a 10-minute recess," the mayor said. "Meet back here in 10 minutes sharp."
"Legal council, we called the question. We got second," Lerner said, address the city attorney.
"We’re gonna resume at exactly that point," the mayor said. "I’m taking a break."
"I’d like to call the question," Lerner said, as the mayor got up from his seat. "We got a second on the floor."
"There’s a motion pending on the floor, mayor, sorry," the city attorney Ted Baggett said.
"They’ll remain pending," the mayor said as he walked out. "I’ll be right back."
Baggett agreed there was a quorum to make the vote.
"The mayor pro tem can act in the mayor’s absent to call the vote," he said.
Every city council member’s hand was raised as Lerner assumed the meeting and called the vote.
"It passes," she noted, followed by an eruption of cheers and applause from residents in attendance.
The council then put itself in recess.
The meeting would continue as planned after the recess with the mayor.
The mayor would address the issue at the end of the meeting, calling the incident "disrespectful". Lerner responded that she hopes that was not the intent.
Lerner released a statement on Tuesday reading:
"I believe the people who spoke in favor of the ordinance and the people who spoke against the ordinance have more in common than they realize. All were speaking about the fear and hurt they feel because someone could possibly discriminate against them. People not only want to be welcomed but they want to feel that they belong. We’ve done that by passing this ordinance.
"I appreciate the community’s willingness to engage in last night’s discussion with shared humility and respect as we learn more by talking through complex issues instead of mobilizing people based on fear and anger. And even if we come to different policy conclusions, we come back to our shared goal of serving Tucker – all of Tucker. It's something I've done for more than 26 years well before we were a city and will continue to do so now and into the future. "