SMYRNA — City Council members debated Tuesday evening the details of a proposed ordinance that would subject city businesses or their employees to fines for discriminating against customers.
City attorney Scott Cochran, who drafted the ordinance, said it was modeled after a similar one passed in January by Brookhaven City Council with changes “mostly to make it enforceable.”
City residents will have an opportunity to comment on the proposed ordinance at a town hall July 14. A copy of the draft ordinance would not be available until later in the week, said city spokesperson Jennifer Bennett.
Mayor Derek Norton said he had initially considered asking the council to pass an anti-discrimination resolution, but decided such an action would amount to mere “window-dressing.”
Cochran described how the ordinance would work at an agenda work session before an official meeting of the City Council held later Monday evening.
“If someone feels that they are the subject of discrimination, and for whatever reason it doesn’t make it to the level where it would be a federal matter,” he said, that person would then file a claim which would go to an attorney Cochran referred to as a “reconciliation officer.”
After an initial screening, the reconciliation officer would try to organize a meeting between the parties involved to see whether they could work out the issue among themselves.
If the victim of the alleged discrimination was satisfied with the outcome of the meeting, the case would be dropped. Otherwise, the reconciliation officer would decide whether the allegations have any merit to them and, if so, forward them to the solicitor’s office. If the accused was ultimately found guilty, he or she would be fined — an outcome that would itself rely on a separate change to city laws, Cochran said.
He added that there are already federal laws dealing with certain kinds of discrimination that, if applicable, would be a better means of addressing complaints.
Although it was modeled after the Brookhaven ordinance, Cochran said he removed language making discrimination illegal “regardless of intent” and exempted religious organizations and private clubs.
Statutes that outlaw discrimination regardless of intent could have unintended consequences, he argued, citing senior discounts as an example of potentially discriminatory behavior.
Council member Charles Welch questioned the need for the ordinance, saying it addressed problems “that don’t exist, or that I don’t know of that exist” while also speculating that the complaints it would enable could overwhelm the city’s courts.
Council member Lewis Wheaton said he had twice been discriminated against at businesses in city limits, and Mayor Norton said other cities with similar ordinances see very few discrimination complaints filed.
A town hall on the resolution will be at the Smyrna Community Center at 7 p.m. July 14.