Alderman Davis Montgomery and Alderwoman Emily Sharpe are working with Town Manager Richard Roedner and the town’s legal staff to draft an equality resolution for the town of Elon. The pair were tasked at the May Board of Aldermen meeting to draft an outline of what an anti-discrimination ordinance could look like in the town of Elon. Board members are expected to discuss the equality resolution at the August 10 meeting.
Drafting the resolution
Community members, including Elon University students and staff, came to the town of Elon Board of Aldermen meeting in May to discuss adopting an anti-discrimination ordinance.
Quinn Ray, the Board of Aldermen member who brought the anti-discriminaton ordinance up for discussion, said it is tough to see board members discussing a resolution, which is a statement made by the town, rather than what an ordinance, a law, could look like.
“Just completely dismissing that and go into a resolution, it kind of hurts me a little bit,” Ray said. “A resolution is better than nothing, but it also has no teeth.”
Sharpe said because part of the board wanted an ordinance and other members did not feel comfortable with one, she and Montgomery had a “frank discussion” about the next steps forward.
“Our full board has said that they're absolutely against any form of discrimination, and I think if we are going to say that we are truly against discrimination, we need to be willing to walk the talk,” Sharpe said. “Right now it's just making sure that whatever action we do take that the whole board is comfortable with.”
The Board of Aldermen will also have two new members and a new mayor in November, which could change what action is taken in the future, Sharpe said.
Montgomery said calling it an anti-discrimination ordinance felt negative, so he and Sharpe decided to focus on equality.
“There's so many ways to look at it, people have such strong feelings and emotions and then you want to try and consider all of that in what you do,” Montgomery said. “The idea of an equality resolution seemed to be a really good first step. We're going to come out and publicly say, here’s what the town of Elon would like to see from the citizens and this is what you can expect from the town.”
Ray compared having a resolution to making Juneteenth a federal holiday, saying while it is a good step forward, there needs to be action along with it.
“We are in a position where we can not end discrimination, not even saying that discrimination is a huge issue in our town, but allow community members to feel that the government, their local government is actually listening to them, and willing to protect them,” Ray said. “Because right now I don't think the LGBTQ community feels that way.”
A resolution as the first step
While Sharpe said she thinks the town needs to take action, the biggest drawback to an ordinance is Elon's small staff size and no full-time human resources position. To enforce an ordinance, the town would need to have staff to support it. Sharpe said she does not see an ordinance being adopted by the current board.
“It's not because they don't want to support something, it's because there's more concern about the what if’s,” Sharpe said. “What if it becomes more than our staff can handle, what if we are getting constant complaints?”
The resolution will be the first step, Montgomery said, and after the town evaluates how well the resolution is working, that will determine if any further action needs to be taken. For Montgomery, the idea of the board determining what is and is not discrimination makes him uneasy.
“I think about how… uncomfortable I am sitting in judgement of somebody else,” Montgomery said. “But if we were to have something that would initiate the idea that said what happened here, what's going on here, it's something we need to address more strongly, then I think that this leaves us the door to open that up and do that.”