Changes to the Blue Springs Charter, discussed over a four-month process by a commission of nine citizens from the city’s three districts, received unanimous approval from the commission at its last meeting Thursday. Now, the changes will go before the City Council on Dec. 17 meeting, and likely appear on the ballot for voters in April.
However, the vote from the commission didn’t come without outside feedback – or without debate. Thursday’s meeting welcomed six guests, the largest crowd since meetings began in September. Four of these guests came to push for expanded protections under the city’s non-discrimination clause, advocating that the policy – which currently encompasses sex, race, ethnicity, religion, political beliefs and age – be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Under the change, employers could not discriminate based on these protected classes.
“One of the things you can do by adopting this is send a message and set a tone that Blue Springs is a community that is proud of its diversity. The community could be welcoming and affirming for anyone who wants to live here, work here and pay taxes here,” said Lori Ross, Blue Springs resident, CEO of FosterAdopt Connect and mother of numerous foster children, some of whom identify as LGBT. “It’s a promise to our children that we as adults recognize that they’re valuable as human beings whoever they are, and that we accept whoever they are.”
Though Council Member Dale Carter and Charter Review Commission Co-Chair Bryan Pratt mentioned that, to their knowledge, the city has never been accused of discrimination in employment practices, several asserted that this is not enough.
“Just because we haven’t been sued doesn’t mean we shouldn’t add it. It could happen,” said Kynette Campbell from District 3. “We shouldn’t wait to let other cities adopt it, and then fall in line after they do it. We could always be the first. (LGBT) residents deserve to be protected as much as anyone else.”
Ultimately, however, no member of the charter commission moved to adopt this change. Some argued that the purpose of the charter review was to simplify, not add, language. Others believed citizens needed to be educated and more involved in the discussion.
“This is a topic that would require education to the citizenry,” Co-Chair Jeannie Lauer stated. “I would not be comfortable voting on that without having surveyed the constituency and having a pretty good feel for where the community is at.”
Still, both commission members and outside attendees urged that the issue remain a point of discussion going forward. Pratt suggested that the City Council consider putting the proposal on the charter, or adopting an ordinance, an approach often taken by the Kansas City Council.
The commission did make several changes, which voters can approve or reject in April. These shifts include a move to gender-neutral language throughout the charter, such as “council member” instead of “councilman,” and “themself” instead of “himself.” The charter will also allow city officials greater participation in the political process, enabling them to donate for candidates, have yard signs and canvas and volunteer on their own time. The revisions also clarify the number of votes needed to remove city officials, specifying a required five-out-of-seven majority.
Other changes, such as the ballot listing candidates’ names in an order determined by numerical drawing, were made to more accurately resemble current city practices.
“I really appreciated the thoughtfulness of this commission,” Pratt said as the meeting concluded. “Everyone brought in their own fresh perspectives. It was a collaborative process.”
“I think we’ve done a great service to our great city with the changes we’ve made.”
The Charter Review Commission will make a presentation to the City Council at the 6 p.m. Dec. 17 meeting at the Howard L. Brown Public Safety Building, 1100 S.W. Smith St.