Tucker, GA — Tucker’s City Council caught some residents by surprise this week when members unanimously voted for a resolution for providing for an “inclusive, fair and welcoming city” at the Oct. 12 City Council meeting.
The vote on the resolution occurred after two years of residents and community leaders asking for a non-discrimination ordinance (NDO) to protect those who work, live and visit the city of Tucker.
The resolution was not on the city’s agenda before the meeting. Mayor Frank Auman, who introduced the last-minute resolution and called for a vote without public input, has said on the record he is against an NDO.
Supporters of the non-discrimination ordinance called the mayor’s move a political stunt and said they were intentionally kept out of the loop about the resolution.
Tuesday was the last City Council meeting prior to the Nov. 2 election in which Auman is running for re-election against newcomer Robin Biro.
“My sense is that he wanted to make sure we didn’t know he was pulling this stunt because he didn’t want everyone to show up to challenge him,” said Damyon Claar-Pressley, co-author of the NDO and chair of Tucker’s Downtown Development Authority.
Ryan Davidson has lived in Tucker since 2015. He said the resolution doesn’t feel genuine.
“It’s pretty convenient that it finally gets daylight just before an election where the mayor’s seat is at risk. And has the ‘All Lives Matter’ flavor to it, which is of course what a straight, white, affluent, conservative-leaning male would say,” said Davidson. “It’s all very convenient when a moderate, gay candidate is running for mayor.”
A resident for 12 years, Julie Dobbs, who identifies as a lesbian, met with Auman this summer about her experience working at Tucker Brewing Company. The company has faced allegations made on social media about its treatment of the LGBTQ+ community. Owners of the brewery said these were errors caused by the company’s rapid growth and staffing issues, not bias against the LGBTQ+ community.
Dobbs left the company after one of the owners told her she was required to wear a dirndl, a German folk dress that is tight across the bust, cinches in at the waist and has a full skirt. She refused.
She told Auman, “I have lived here a long time with my wife, and I just want the same protections that everybody else has. We’re not asking for more, we’re just asking to be equal.”
Tucker Open Door made an official statement that the sentiment of the city’s resolution is commendable, but not enforceable.
“It is important to have a legally enforceable ordinance because a resolution is only a formal statement of the opinion of the City. After two long years of diligently answering questions and educating the mayor and City Council members, it’s a testament to the power an election year holds that the Tucker Open Door community was able to make the non-discrimination ordinance a pivotal issue in our local elections,” the statement reads. “Over the last two years we have emphasized that passing a non-discrimination ordinance is something our community supports. We now have a commitment to create and pass an NDO from at least one current council member, a mayoral candidate, and numerous candidates in each district.”
All candidates for City Council are in favor of an NDO. Biro has widely supported an NDO, publicly stating he will put it on the agenda within his first 60 days in office if elected as mayor. Neal Stubblefield (District 3, Post 1) and Thomas Walker (District 2, Post 2) support an NDO in general, but not as it was written by Tucker Open Door.
Atlanta, Brookhaven, Doraville, Decatur, Clarkston, Chamblee and Dunwoody have NDOs to protect residents from discrimination.
During the Decaturish candidate forum on Sept. 15, Auman said “[the NDO] serves to divide us, as opposed to unifying us … It will also lead to a lot of severe unintended consequences, like unnecessary and expensive litigation by and among our citizens.”
“When you’re in the government and making laws that have the police power that can result in someone’s arrest or taking their money or property, you have to set your feelings aside. And my duty as mayor is to make sure we consider carefully and pass carefully any law that we pass, whether it’s on this subject or any other,” Auman said.
Auman also said an NDO is “out of our purview, meaning it’s not something that the city is authorized, or expected to involve itself in.”
The new resolution is in stark contrast to the last major ordinance passed – the Urban Camping Ordinance – which followed a standard course. A first read and public hearing was held Jan. 11, a second read and public hearing was held Feb. 8 and council split a vote 3-3. Council members Noelle Monferdini and Pat Soltys tabled the item, created a working group with local experts in the field of homelessness and asked for feedback.
Alexis Weaver, prior to becoming a candidate for City Council in District 3, was the moderator of the working group. She said it was one of the reasons she decided to run.
City Council passed the Urban Camping Ordinance with some changes on March 8.
Council members Anne Lerner, Matt Robbins and Soltys volunteered to create the framework for a working group to further study an NDO. She said an employment attorney and a professional in behavioral health and developmental disabilities have already offered to help.
Lerner said, “We’ll bring a proposal for the composition and format of a group to solicit public and legal opinion on the matter to keep us moving forward. It’s a similar process we had in place for our charter review commission.”
“The intent of an NDO we can all agree upon. It’s the legal details and the process we need to further review and get input from and educate Tucker residents and business owners. Beyond the headlines and social media posts, when you actually talk to people about such an ordinance there is a lack of understanding about the details, so anything we can do to help educate the community will benefit everyone in the long run,” added Lerner.
Soltys said City Council wants an ordinance that is not only sustainable, but protectable and defensible as well.
Matt Holmes, Tucker spokesperson, said the resolution was not ready last week by the time the City Council meeting agenda and packet were due to go online.
In Doraville, council member Stephe Koontz said the city started an NDO from scratch in March 2017 and by December 2017 it passed.
“At that point it became a model ordinance for Georgia, and since then a dozen cities have passed an NDO based off it,” Koontz told Tucker Observer. “Within a year Chamblee, Clarkston, Brookhaven and Dunwoody all passed a similar one. Decatur, Smyrna and others did shortly after. I offered to help Tucker on theirs as did Cathy Woolard at Georgia Equality. Anne Lerner showed initial interest, but no one ever followed up. Frank openly said he had no interest in allowing this to move forward.”
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