Back again: County Commissioners to weigh in on discrimination policy tonight

Less than a year after three Buncombe County commissioners rejected a resolution that would protect government workers against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the proposition returns to the board for reconsideration tonight.

Under the current Buncombe County personnel ordinance, which was adopted last August (and can be found in full here), current county government employees can be neither harassed nor discriminated against based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, political affiliation, physical or mental disability, age, veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected class under state or federal law. Different cases established these protected classes. For example, various aspects of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 established federal case law to protect people from discrimination based on race or national origin. The First Amendment sets the legal precedent for individuals not to be discriminated against based on their religious beliefs.

Before the then five-member board voted 3-2 last August against the resolution, with chair David Gantt and commissioner Holly Jones in favor of the additional language in the personnel ordinance, the Campaign for Southern Equality published its own analysis of the county’s personnel policy. In the findings, the Asheville-based nonprofit asserted:

Under current law, an individual can be fired for being lesbian, gay, bisexual [or] transgender.”

Nationwide, the report continued:

“LGBT people experience high rates of discrimination and harassment in the workplace, with 37 percent of LGBT and 90 percent of transgender people reporting such experiences.”

Last October, Xpress asked then-commissioner-candidates about this topic with the question, “Should sexual orientation/gender identity be added to the list of protected classes in the county’s personnel ordinance? Why or why not?” If all commissioners vote how they said they would in this questionnaire, they’ll ban sexual orientation discrimination with a 4-3 vote down party lines. The responses from those voter guides by candidate can be found below:

David Gantt
Buncombe County Commissioner, Chairman

“Yes. I believe sexual orientation/gender identity discrimination should be specifically banned in our county. We should have zero tolerance for this type of discrimination and must spell this out in official county ordinance.”

Holly Jones
Buncombe County Commissioner, District 1

“Yes. There is a wealth of data that tells us that LGBT individuals suffer higher incidences of harassment and discrimination on the workplace. Buncombe County needs to be a leader in our community, sending a strong signal against discrimination.”

Brownie Newman
Buncombe County Commissioner, District 1

“Yes. Buncombe County should take a clear stand for equality for all our citizens. The [Board of Commissioners] should make it clear that Buncombe County is a safe, inclusive community.”

Ellen Frost
Buncombe County Commissioner, District 2

“Yes, absolutely.”

Mike Fryar
Buncombe County Commissioner, District 2

“No. Buncombe County already has a nondiscrimination policy in place. I am not aware of any discrimination in the county based on sexual orientation/gender identity.”

David King
Buncombe County Commissioner, District 3

“No. I believe ALL employees should have the same protections and freedom from discrimination in the county’s personnel ordinance. No employee should be discriminated against. Employees should only be held accountable for job performance and workplace behaviors.”

Joe Belcher
Buncombe County Comissioner, District 3

“I do not condone discrimination and feel strongly commissioners should be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. Staff and commissioners before and after closed session indicated this addition could expose Buncombe to unknown legal or financial costs. School and social-services funding should not be put at risk on unknowns.”

Tonight’s decision will come just two weeks after the board voted 4-3 along party lines to approve same-sex partner benefits.

At the April 2 meeting, county commissioners will also consider:
•  A $40,000 budget amendment that would help bring an IronMan competition to the Asheville area in 2014. The triathlon would consist of a 2.4 mile swim, an 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run.

• A rezoning request from Asheville-Buncombe Community Christian Ministries that 1.78 acres between Gossett Road and Candler Heights Road be rezoned from residential to commercial use.

The April 2 Buncombe County Commissioners meeting starts at 4:30 p.m. in room 326 at 200 College St. in downtown Asheville. Public comment is taken at the beginning of the meeting. Tonight’s agenda can be found here.


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