Lander considering non-discrimination resolution April 12; ordinance could follow

The Lander City Council will consider adopting a new non-discrimination resolution next month.

The updated resolution identifies local resources people can access when they experience discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation, council members said.

“We heard strong public comment in this room in July about people who have faced discrimination,” Council Member Julia Stuble said.

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“Who is the point of contact with the city when this happens?”

Chief of police

According to the proposed resolution, people who experience discrimination in Lander should contact the chief of police, who will track the complaint and help notify “the appropriate federal agencies.”

Council Member Chris Hulme pushed back on that idea, suggesting the point of contact should be someone who is “more approachable,” like a victim and witness advocate.

“Individuals who experience discrimination … don’t always have confidence (in) police departments,” Hulme said. “(There is) cultural distrust of some of the systems that are in place.”

Lander Police Department chief Scott Peters said the city’s victim and witness advocate will most likely handle local reports of discrimination, but because that position is grant-funded, staff did not think it should be mentioned in the resolution.  

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“We’d hate to put something (in there) that two years from now we possibly might not have,” Peters said.

Ordinance

Hulme also asked the council to revisit the idea of an ordinance – not just a resolution – that would let the city prosecute discrimination locally, instead of simply directing people to cumbersome state and federal agencies.

“(We) have to create that lane, that position, within the city for those claims to be handled,” Hulme said. “An ordinance with a broader legal ramification … says this is important to us, this is our values, this is our culture.

“(Let’s) put our money where our mouth is to say this community is inclusive.”

Stuble agreed that “there is strong community support for an ordinance,” but she thinks that discussion should take place during city budget meetings that will take place in the coming months.

“We need to identify the resources for staff to successfully implement that ordinance,” she said.

Mayor Monte Richardson suggested waiting even longer – a year – before considering an ordinance, pointing out that the resolution, if passed, requires the police to provide an annual report on the number of discrimination complaints that come in locally.

That report will give Lander “a marking point to know if we do need to go to an ordinance,” Richardson said, adding that he would like to avoid creating “another law we have to try and enforce.”

Feedback encouraged

In the proposed resolution, the city recognizes that “acts of discrimination based on race, color, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity), disability, religion, familial status, national origin, and citizenship status occur in Lander.”

Council Member John Larsen said he was “conflicted” about that language, since he has “not seen” all of those types of discrimination in town.

“I’ve had people tell me that it happens, just second-hand,” he said. “But I’ve never had anybody come up and say, ‘John, this has happened to me.’”

Stuble said the list merely mimics the federal definition of discrimination, but she invited the rest of the council – and members of the public – to “wordsmith” the resolution and suggest changes before it comes up for a vote April 12.

The council will take public comment before voting on the resolution.

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