Billings’ nondiscrimination ordinance is right back where it started — on the city council’s agenda for the June 16 work session.
The city council voted 7-4 Tuesday morning to rescind a vote cast May 26 to direct staff to cease work on the ordinance.
City Administrator Tina Volek said the ordinance will be the only item for consideration during Monday’s work session, which begins at 5:30 p.m. in council chambers.
Monday’s meeting saw more than 150 people sign up to testify. The meeting began at 6:30 p.m. Monday and concluded just before 6 a.m. Tuesday. Testimony was civil even as people stood or sat for up to eight hours on stairways leading to council chambers to await their three minutes of testimony.
Earlier in the meeting, Mayor Tom Hanel said he intended to vote in favor of lifting the ban on drafting the ordinance. He was joined by council members Angela Cimmino, who also changed her vote from two weeks ago, as well as Al Swanson, Ken Crouch, Jani McCall, Becky Bird and Brent Cromley.
Council members Shaun Brown, Mike Yakawich, Denis Pitman and Rich McFadden voted against lifting the ban, as they had May 26.
Hanel said his switched vote didn’t come about because he changed his mind, but that he wanted to give the 2014-15 budget full consideration before taking on the NDO.
Cimmino said she made a promise in January to look at the issue once the budget action was complete; the council unanimously approved the FY 2015 budget Monday evening.
Cromley said he was “appalled” by the amount of discrimination described during testimony. Most of the opposition to the NDO, he said, “seemed to me to be based on fear.”
McFadden said he has no doubt that people in the LGBT community “have a rough time. I feel sympathy and empathy for people who have suffered needlessly, but I don’t believe it’s an epidemic in Billings.”
He said his main problem with the proposed ordinance is that “in the U.S. we are supposed to have limited government, but this puts so much government into the lives of our churches, our businesses and our homes.”
Crouch invited Billings churches to have a gay or transgender person “come and talk to you. And don’t try to change them.”
Brown said he believes the close vote from two weeks ago reflects how closely divided the community is on the issue. “This council does represent where the city is — very split,” he said.
Swanson said he thinks the ordinance is important because it helps the city carry out its vision statement, making Billings “a welcoming place where people flourish and business thrives.”
Just before casting his vote, Hanel said he’d come down just where he said he would nine hours before.
“Is discrimination out of control? I don’t think so. Do we want Billings to be the community we all brag about? Yes we do,” he said. “I said I would bring this forward to study, and I’m going to stand by that.”