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Tucker mayor fails to block nondiscrimination ordinance

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Tucker mayor fails to block nondiscrimination ordinance

From L to R, City Manager Tami Hanlin, Councilmember Alexis Weaver, Councilmember Cara Schroeder, Councilmember Roger Orlando, Mayor Frank Auman, Mayor Pro Tem Anne Lerner, Councilmember Noelle Monferdini, Councilmember Virginia Rece. Photo by Sara Amis

This story has been updated. 

Tucker, GA — Tucker Mayor Frank Auman pulled out all the stops during a June 12 city council meeting to block the passage of a nondiscrimination ordinance.

But, in the end, he failed.

The ordinance creates legal definitions in the city code for age, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and veteran. It declares that people have a right to be free from discrimination regarding seeking or keeping employment, enjoying public accommodations, obtaining housing, and being free from retaliation for exercising those rights. It also establishes a means of enforcing the ordinance and handling discrimination complaints.

The Tucker City Council, after voluminous public debate, passed the ordinance 6-1 at its regular meeting on June 12.

The vote was the culmination of a long process beginning when the need for a nondiscrimination ordinance was first proposed in 2019.

The nondiscrimination ordinance was written by Councilmember Virginia Rece, Councilmember Cara Schroeder, and Mayor Pro Tem Anne Lerner. An NDO working group was formed in April 2022 which included Lerner, Schroeder, and Rece.

Auman has been against the ordinance from the beginning, and it was only passed due to persistent public pressure. The ordinance became an issue in the  2021 mayoral election. More recently, the ordinance has packed city council meetings and prompted impassioned public comment, both for and against.

Supporters outnumbered opponents at the June 12 meeting, which followed a public comment format in which alternating speakers for each side received two minutes to speak, for a total of 40 minutes.

Auman meddled with that process by allowing several speakers opposed to the ordinance to defer their time to Michelle Penkava, as he had done for Rev. Troy Bush of Rehoboth Baptist Church at the May 8 meeting.

Penkava said that the city was “a creature of the state legislature” and that she did not believe that the city had the authority to regulate businesses in the manner proposed in the ordinance.

“I’m still not clear on how we are garnering this power,” Penkava said.

When supporters tried to offer their time to NDO supporter Feroza Syed, however, Auman objected.

Syed, a Tucker resident who is a realtor and a transgender woman, said that she wanted to address some concerns that Auman raised at the May 8 meeting.

“Business performance has been shown to increase with nondiscrimination ordinances. Startups increase with these protections as well,” Syed said.

Syed said that she did not see property owners being forced to rent to LGBTQ people as a negative. Syed quoted statistics that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are 16% more likely to experience discrimination in housing and that one in five transgender people have been discriminated against when seeking a home and one in ten have been evicted for being transgender. 

Syed cited a letter written by the Atlanta Realtors Association and the DeKalb Realtors Association supporting the ordinance.

“We believe in fair housing,” Syed said.

Other speakers took swipes at Syed’s statements. Danae Vandance said that Syed had given no sources for her statistics, and therefore they should not be considered.

The second time Syed was allowed to speak, she offered a long list of her sources, including Trans Equality Law Center, UCLA Williams Institute, Southern Poverty Law Center, and the ACLU.

Syed went on to say that hate crimes were at the highest rate in 30 years, and that from 2013 to 2017, hate crimes in Georgia increased 219%.

“Religion, race, and sexual orientation are the three largest motivators for those hate crimes,” Syed said.

The following speaker, Tom Langston Jr. attacked Syed’s sources.

“Figures don’t lie, but liars do a lot of figuring,” Langston said.

Several opponents expressed fears that the ordinance would be divisive, encroach on personal religious liberties, and entangle the city in litigation.

Kristen Kameches among others, said that the ordinance had been changed so much from the version presented on May 8 that the second read on June 12 should be treated as a first read, thus delaying the final vote.

When asked to weigh in by Auman, City Attorney Ted Baggett said that as long as changes were germane to the underlying issue, revisions would not restart the process.

Auman offered five amendments to the ordinance, including adding a political party as a protected category under the ordinance, adding a genuine statement of religious belief as a valid defense for violating the ordinance, adding a sunset clause for the ordinance to expire after three years, and adding a colon to clarify that “actual or perceived” applied to all the categories. He also suggested holding a referendum on the ordinance.

All Auman’s proposed amendments died lacking a second. Auman then spoke for a further 30 minutes about what he described as the legal flaws in the ordinance.

“The proposed ordinance does not achieve, will not achieve what it purports to,” Auman said.

Auman asserted that the opponents “offered no facts” and never told him why such an ordinance was needed in Tucker.

Aside from Syed’s statistics about hate crimes in Georgia overall, another realtor named Christopher Matos-Rogers told a story of discrimination that had happened in Tucker, in which a real estate agent had asked inappropriate personal questions of his clients during a deal.

“This is a perfect example of why we need a non-discrimination ordinance,” Matos-Rogers said.

Councilmember Roger Orlando said earlier in the meeting that he was Initially focused on unintended consequences and agreed with many in wondering why an NDO was necessary. However, Orlando said that what he heard from other council members and residents had changed his perspective.

“Individual stories affected me in my heart,” Orlando said.

Councilmember Alexis Weaver said that as a person of faith, she believed that everyone is made in the image of God.

“We have to think of the most marginalized, the most on the edges,” Weaver said.

Rece said, “I believe this ordinance is the right thing to do, I think it’s the right thing for this city. It will move us towards an even more fair and just city.”

Auman resisted an attempt by Weaver to call the question and vote. At one point, he said that the council members were failing to defend the United States Constitution. As Auman spoke, some in the audience chafed, with one audience member saying, ““Your two minutes are up.”

Auman was undeterred.

“Just stop. Leave it where it is. Don’t call for a vote,” Auman said.

Auman then asked for a 10 minute recess before the vote. Lerner and the other council members did not agree, and Auman left the room without a formal recess.

City Attorney Baggett advised Lerner that the city council had a quorum and could call the question. All the six council members in the room voted to pass the ordinance.

After the council reconvened, Auman asked that his vote be recorded as a “no.”

At the end of the city council meeting around midnight, Auman complained that he had been treated disrespectfully by the council in not allowing a recess when he asked for it.

Auman said that it allowed the audience to think that he was just trying to delay and didn’t want to be there for the vote.

“It just flies all over me,” Auman said.

Lerner said that no disrespect was intended.

Schroeder released a prepared statement that spoke about the year that the working group spent on the ordinance, and thanked the community for their input, both for and against.

“The Non-Discrimination Ordinance will be a useful guideline for citizens, businesses, and the city as a whole. It makes it clear that Tucker is a welcoming and supportive community for all,” Schroeder said.

To read the final, approved version of the ordinance, click here.

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