BEREA — The Lexington Fair Housing Council would investigate housing discrimination complaints in Berea at no cost should that city pass an ordinance creating a human rights commission.
The housing council, a nonprofit, fair-housing agency, already investigates more than 100 complaints throughout the state, program administrator Sheri Streeter told Berea City Council Tuesday night.
And the agency has investigated complaints in Berea before, said Executive Director Art Crosby before the city council meeting.
The housing council investigates complaints of discrimination in race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status and mental and physical disabilities.
But Crosby said the housing council would have a limited role if a complaint involved discrimination against gays, lesbians or transgender people, who would not be protected under the ordinance being considered by Berea City Council.
"We would investigate it, yes," Crosby said. "But you couldn't necessarily say it was illegal for them, unless it is tied into one of the other categories, which it sometimes does."
Crosby said the housing council is merely offering its services to the city, which had expressed concern about the cost of investigations.
"This is what we do and what we will continue to do, making sure the city is aware that we're out there and doing those types of things without charge," Crosby said.
The housing council could also help train local investigators or human-rights commissioners for free; conduct educational sessions for local community members and rental-property owners for free; and offer legal advice at no cost, Streeter said.
Berea citizen Shane Morris told city council that it was "Orwellian" that an outside investigative body would offer to "investigate citizens in this town."
Morris said in an interview that he has no problem investigating discrimination on the basis of race or other protected classes because "those are laws on the books." But state law does not recognize sexual preference or gender identity as protected classes, he said.
The main point to city council was to demonstrate that a human-rights commission is "affordable and fiscally possible," said Jason Howard, a member of Bereans for Fairness. That group is encouraging the city council to include sexual preference and gender identity in the proposed ordinance.
In the meantime, a second reading and vote on the ordinance might come at Berea City Council's next meeting on Sept. 20.
In related news, Bereans for Fairness announced Tuesday that they plan a rally and march at 4:30 p.m. Sept. 20 to advocate for the inclusion of gays, lesbians and transgender people in the ordinance for a human-rights commission. The march will begin at Union Church in Berea.