Madison County

Richmond commission gets report on extending fairness protections to gays

The city of Richmond could add sexual orientation and gender identity protections to its current human rights ordinance at little or no extra expense, according to a report submitted to city commissioners Tuesday night.

The fiscal impact statement, compiled by the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, presents five different models for enforcing a fairness ordinance, all purportedly involving relatively minimal cost to the city.

Estimates, however, are based on an assumption that Richmond, as a result of its size, would have to hold an actual administrative hearing on fairness violations no more than once every decade.

To help hold down costs, the report envisions a partnership between Richmond and the Lexington Fair Housing Council, which would investigate discrimination complaints, conduct public information sessions on housing discrimination, and train Richmond human rights commissioners in drafting complaints, all at no cost to the city of Richmond.

The Lexington Fair Housing Council made essentially the same offer to the city of Berea in September during that city's consideration of a fairness ordinance, said Sheri Streeter, program administrator for the housing council.

The report was submitted to the Richmond City Commission by representatives from the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, the Richmond Human Rights Commission and the Statewide Fairness Coalition.

Those groups are hoping the report will ease fears raised by some, including Mayor Jim Barnes, that Richmond can't afford the expense of enforcing a fairness ordinance.

According to Tuesday night's report, Richmond budgets about $1,000 annually for operations of its existing human rights commission.

Some of the funding alternatives presented to the city would involve placing half the commission's annual allocation in a reserve fund to cover any hearing costs. In another model, the city would seek outside donations to help cover costs. Finally, one model would provide for mediation of complaints, with no hearings or investigations involved.

"All of the options ultimately would not cost anything additional to the city beyond what they are already paying," said Chris Hartman, a steering committee member with the Statewide Fairness Coalition.

In August, Berea Mayor Steve Connelly proposed that his city, Richmond and Madison County should jointly seek the creation of a county-wide human rights commission. Richmond and Madison County officials, however, wanted to wait.

The Berea City Council ultimately voted to create its own human rights commission, but did not extend protections to gays, lesbians and transgender residents. Fairness supporters, however, have continued to push for such protection.

Lexington, Covington and Louisville are the only Kentucky cities that offer fairness protections to gays, lesbians and transgender residents.