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City merging two proposals for Inclusion and Equity Act
Businesses that discriminate in employment, housing, etc. could face fines, lose license
W McCollar Jonathan 2018
Mayor Jonathan McCollar

Statesboro city officials are merging an anti-discrimination ordinance drafted by City Attorney Cain Smith with the “equity package” prepared by the “One Boro” commission to create a Statesboro Inclusion and Equity Act.

The anti-discrimination part would prohibit businesses from discriminating on the basis of race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or military status in hiring and employment, in housing and in selling or renting real estate in general and in public accommodations.

Under the draft received Tuesday by City Council, a business found in violation could face a fine of up to $500 for a first offense and, for subsequent violations, a fine of up to $1,000 and suspension or revocation of its occupational tax certificate, informally known as a business license.

That proposal, as a stand-alone anti-discrimination ordinance, had been on the council’s 5:30 p.m. agenda for a first reading and possible preliminary vote. But after hearing from both Smith and One Boro leaders during  Tuesday’s 3:30 p.m. work session, the council unanimously tabled the first-reading so that the nondiscrimination ordinance can be meshed with One Boro’s  larger “equity package” proposal.

A provision that would seek a certain percentage of participation by minority-owned businesses in city bids and contracts was not included yet in either draft. But Mayor Jonathan McCollar suggested that this be added.

“What I would like to propose to City Council is that we bring both of these pieces together, the equity piece was well as the discrimination piece, but I would also like to see that economic piece in there as well, that piece where we are deliberately working to make sure that we work with all businesses across the board in with the city of Statesboro,” McCollar said during the work session.


Equity initiatives

In addition to nondiscrimination ordinance provisions, One Boro’s proposed equity package includes four initiatives: 1) violence prevention, including establishment of a prevention task force and city funding for its programs; 2) “community programming,” with Community Development Block Grant funds prioritized to projects for historically disadvantaged communities; 3) annual city employee equity and access training, and 4) a Campaign for Equity, with monitored and reported results.

“It is essential that data not only be collected, but also reported to the community for accountability and quality improvement,” said Stacy Smallwood, who chairs One Boro’s subcommittee for what is now the Inclusion and Equity Act proposal.

“So, to that end, the Campaign for Equity will solicit input from each city authority, board and commission to identify key indicators of success in multiple domains, including but not limited to, economic development, housing, health and service equity,” he said.

One Boro, also known as the Statesboro Commission on Diversity and Inclusion, is a city-authorized research and advisory panel made up of volunteers, including voting members appointed by the council.

Adoption of the Inclusion and Equity Act would make Statesboro the ninth city in Georgia with a nondiscrimination ordinance, said One Boro Chair April M. Schueths.

Atlanta has had one for about 20 years, now joined by Brookhaven, Chamblee, Clarkston, Doraville, Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and most recently, East Point. If it acts soon, Statesboro would also become the first city south of Macon with such an ordinance, Schueths said.

 “We’ve reviewed, we’ve researched, we’ve talked with folks who had worked on passing these ordinances,” she told the council.


A few differences

One Boro proposed to have the mayor and council appoint a Human Relations Commission, a three-member panel with at least one attorney member, Smallwood said, to hear discrimination complaints.

But Smith’s draft of the basic anti-discrimination ordinance would instead direct discrimination cases not settled by mediation to the Statesboro Municipal Court.

The court would assign such cases to a hearing officer who could impose the civil fines and, for repeat offenders, make a recommendation for an occupation tax certificate suspension or revocation. The mayor and council would have to vote on any license revocation.

Both versions would give the person who filed the complaint and the business accused of discrimination the option of submitting first to non-binding mediation. They would split the mediator fees.

But the One Boro proposal would have the city staff investigate complaints, Smith said. His Tuesday draft would place the burden of proof at a hearing entirely on those who file the complaints.

An exemption for religious organizations would allow them to hire people on the basis of religious affiliation for “work connected with the performance of religious activities,” and private clubs not open to the public could give preference to their members.


Hate crimes addressed

Both One Boro and the city attorney’s draft ordinance also call for establishing a procedure to report hate crimes. But these would be investigated by the Statesboro Police Department, whose officers would receive training in the subject, and potentially referred to state and federal agencies.

After hearing McCollar’s request in the work session, the council in its regular meeting Tuesday unanimously tabled the ordinance’s first reading until the next work session, slated for Aug. 18 before the regular voting meeting that evening.

Meanwhile, Smith is expected to revise the overall Inclusion and Equity Act, working out differences with further input from the One Boro panel and council members.

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