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Homer City Council votes down 'inclusivity' resolution

  • Author: Shahla Farzan, KBBI
  • Updated: March 1, 2017
  • Published March 1, 2017

Dozens of residents turned out to provide public testimony at the Homer City Council meeting Monday. (Shahla Farzan / KBBI)

HOMER — After hearing hours of public testimony Monday night, the Homer City Council in a 5-1 vote rejected a resolution intended to promote "inclusivity" that had grown controversial.

The resolution, co-sponsored by council members Donna Aderhold, Catriona Reynolds and David Lewis, cited recent violence targeting religious groups, minorities and the LGBTQ community. It also officially rejected discrimination against any group with regard to "race, religion, ethnicity, gender, national origin, physical capabilities or sexual orientation" and expressed a commitment to creating a safe, inclusive community.

Reynolds was the sole member voting in favor.

"I have witnessed people who live in our community who have already had to endure an increase of hate and bullying," said Reynolds. "When you aren't (on) the receiving end of abuse because of religion or skin color or sexual orientation, it's easy to think it doesn't happen here. But it does happen here."

More than 100 people packed into Cowles Council Chambers and overflowed into the lobby, and more than 90 gave public testimony over the course of three and a half hours. The majority strongly opposed the resolution.

"The fact that this room is filled with people that are here in opposition to this resolution should be a reminder to you that you are elected officials," said John Butcher. "As an elected official, your position can be filled in the next election cycle or sooner if you don't do your job."

Much of the controversy stemmed from a draft resolution posted to social media, which included several clauses critical of President Donald Trump. Those clauses were removed before Monday's council meeting.

Local business owner Coletta Walker argued the resolution would hurt the town's image and negatively affect tourism.

"You have done a great harm to this community. I for one am appalled that someone thinks that they need to dictate to me how to be hospitable and community-minded. It is not the responsibility of government to dictate to its people to be kind," said Walker.

The resolution emphasized the city's commitment to cooperating with federal agencies in detaining undocumented immigrants, but a number of residents expressed concern that it appeared to be advocating for providing sanctuary.

Others voiced support for the resolution, including Lindsay Martin.

"I am a Korean-born citizen of the United States who is new to Homer. Positive and welcoming interactions with my fellow Homer citizens make up a majority of my day," said Martin. "However, the negative experiences I have had are significant enough and based in my ethnic identity that I support this resolution."

Julia Person said she originally thought the resolution was unnecessary and wasn't planning to give public testimony. What she heard in the audience at the council meeting, however, changed her mind.

"When I heard people talk about tolerance and then when the word 'Muslim' came up and they made all these derogatory remarks, I realized the illusion of tolerance in this town is very deep," Person said.

Despite the controversy, much of the proposed resolution is already embedded in state and federal law, said Homer resident and lawyer Andy Haas.

"This is a Rorschach test. We look at this and we all see different things. As a lawyer, when I look at this, I can tell you that the body of the resolution merely restates the law," said Haas.

Alaska's criminal code does not define hate crimes as a distinct offense, but a state statute does allow for the possibility of a more severe sentence if a "defendant has knowingly directed the conduct constituting the offense at a victim because of that person's race, sex, color, creed, physical or mental disability, ancestry or national origin." Bias due to sexual orientation is not included as an aggravating factor.

The story was first published by KBBI and is republished here with permission.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Homer City Council meeting was on Tuesday night. It was on Monday.

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