BEREA — Elected officials from Richmond and Madison County did not embrace a proposal Tuesday from Berea Mayor Steve Connelly to create a countywide human-rights commission.
That leaves the Berea City Council to create a commission on its own. The Berea council gave first reading to an ordinance July 19 that would create a human rights commission. A second reading and final vote will come in September, said Connelly and council member Truman Fields.
The issue has been linked with the possible passage of a yet-to-be-proposed fairness ordinance to protect gays, lesbians and transgender people from discrimination. Members of Bereans for Fairness, which supports a fairness ordinance, attended Tuesday afternoon's meeting of Richmond, Berea and Madison County Fiscal Court officials.
As written now, the proposed ordinance for the human rights commission in Berea would investigate claims of religious, racial, sex, age and physical-disability discrimination in the workplace, housing and public accommodations. It does not include language about sexual orientation or gender identity, which Bereans for Fairness and other groups hope the city will include.
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Of the 23 human rights commissions in Kentucky, only those in Lexington, Louisville and Covington have "extended jurisdiction" to enforce discrimination against gays, lesbians and transgender people. The others, including the one in Richmond, have "standard jurisdiction" that do not have those protections.
Connelly had hoped that Richmond, which has a human rights commission, and Madison County, which doesn't, would pursue an interlocal agreement for a countywide human rights commission. Versailles, Midway and Woodford County have had such an agreement since 1995.
But Richmond Mayor Jim Barnes said he would prefer that Berea proceed with its own human rights commission, then perhaps "mesh" it and Richmond's at a later date.
"I think at this time it's a little premature," Barnes said.
"Don't you think it would be a little redundant, though, for us to create one that we would then un-create to merge with Richmond?" Connelly said.
"No, not necessarily," Barnes said.
Madison County Judge-Executive Kent Clark said the county would prefer to wait as well.
"I've been there 18 years (as judge-executive) and I've never had anybody bring any kind of issue," Clark said. "We have trouble getting members to fill out the 30 or 40 boards we already have. So now, all of a sudden, we're creating a board we really haven't had any interest in, and now I've got to find five or seven or nine more people."
Connelly said the argument for a countywide commission was that "discrimination respects no governmental boundary."
"Joint action on civil rights, in addition, would make a positive statement to potential new businesses, and people like Hitachi or the other companies that are looking at us, who pay attention to how local civil rights are handled," Connelly said during the meeting.
Asked afterward whether he was disappointed that the countywide commission wasn't embraced, Connelly said: "I think the county missed an opportunity today, but clearly there is room for more discussion, and I think we will continue focusing on it in Berea, We'll see if there is an opportunity to revive it at an appropriate time in the future."