Every now and then, you see something in government that gives you the heebie-jeebies. A case in point is how the referendum to dump the ordinance giving additional anti-discrimination protections to Anchorage's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community is being blocked.
The ordinance went on the books in September. That is when the Anchorage Assembly -- Amy Demboski and Bill Starr were the only two to vote no -- decided to ignore voters who in 2012 turned out in huge numbers to defeat the notion of adding such rights.
The proposed language in the current referendum to dump that ordinance, an effort headed up by conservative talk show host Bernadette Wilson, is very clear, very short, very concise:
"Shall AO No 2015-96 (S-1) (as amended), an ordinance adding sexual orientation and gender identity to Title 5 of the Anchorage Municipal Code, remain law?"
It asks for a yes-or-no answer.
It could not be much plainer. For reasons increasingly clear, Municipal Attorney Bill Falsey says that language does not pass legal muster.
Mind you, it is virtually the same language a judge ordered onto the ballot in the 2012 referendum to dump AO-37, the controversial ordinance changing the city's labor ordinance. That language also was gin-clear:
"Shall AO No. 2013-37 (S-2) (As amended), an ordinance amending Anchorage Municipal Code chapter 3.70, Employee Relations, remain law?"
It also asked for a simple yes or no -- and passed legal muster.
As you can see, the language in the current LGBT ordinance referendum is strikingly similar, but Falsey has problems with it and has been dueling with proponents over the wording. In his view, it simply is not good enough -- and what he thinks counts. A lot.
Backers of the referendum are facing a deadline to get the question on the April ballot, and petitions need to be circulated to collect 5,700 signatures -- but the process cannot begin, you see, until the city lawyer gives his OK.
That is where this gets itchy. Falsey works for Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, a guy who does not support the referendum. In fact, LGBT rights were included as a campaign plank in his mayoral campaign. And, before he landed the city's top lawyer job, Falsey was a partner in the firm of Sedor, Wendlandt, Evans and Filippi. Assemblyman Bill Evans is a partner there -- and says Falsey helped him draft the original AO-96 ordinance.
Evans said the original measure the two worked on included religious exemptions, which won no friends. Assemblyman Patrick Flynn ponied up another version, and the Assembly adopted a compromise of the two efforts.
With all that coziness, who really believes the referendum proponents can begin to get a fair shake?
Now, Falsey suggests longer, confusing language for the LGBT referendum:
"Shall AO 2015-96(S-1) (as amended) which amended the Equal Rights Title of the Anchorage Municipal Code (Title 5) to prohibit discrimination within the Municipality on the bases of sexual orientation or gender identity in the sale, rental or use real property, financing, employment, places of public accommodations, educational institutions, and practices of the Municipality; to codify certain religious and other exemptions; and to expand the lawyer's role in fact-finding conferences before the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission, be repealed?"
Voting yes repeals the ordinance; voting no retains it -- further befuddling all but the most tenacious voters.
Any law professor would be button-poppin' proud. The obfuscation is breathtaking. Yes means no; no means yes. Bury 'em in bureaucratese. In the end, who really knows what the heck it means? And, drumming up work for more lawyers? Really? Absolutely priceless.
The problem is that it stinks; flies in the face of fairness; exposes this administration's apparent belief that the people cannot be trusted to arrive at the right answer. How can Falsey, who had much to do with the original LGBT ordinance, have anything to do with deciding anything about the referendum? How can Falsey, who works for a guy who promised the LGBT community action on rights, decide whether there will be a vote to dump the LGBT rights ordinance?
No matter where you stand on the LGBT rights issue -- and they have the same rights as everybody else; no more, no less -- using government power to advance a social or political agenda by slow-rolling a public vote using the most specious of grounds is problematic and tells you what you need to know.
Referendum proponents likely will have to go to court to win a spot on the ballot -- although that simply flies in the face of what is right.
It was wrong on AO-37; it is wrong now.
Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com, a division of Porcaro Communications.
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