Southfield may opt for rights ordinance


Jeremy Moss was not happy the morning after the Southfield City Council agreed on a 4-2 vote to ask the city attorney to come up with a civil rights ordinance that protects everyone, including members of the gay community.

While the council agreed, the vote was closer than it appeared by the numbers alone. Moss, the youngest member of the council, had proposed the ordinace be developed and sought a concensus from the council to make it happen. That vote left him stunned.

“I’m incredibly surprised and disappointed,” he said the next day. “We can’t be a community that puts up (a civil rights ordinance) for a vote and have it fail.”

Moss has worked, along with other officials, to bring a younger – and some would say a more inclusive – generation into the city. Given that the city prides itself on its diversity, and that another entity just last week proclaimed Southfield the most diverse city in the state of Michigan, a “no” vote on such and ordinance could offset those efforts, some fear.

“What does it say who we are?” Moss quizzed rhetorically.

The vote

Here’s what happened at Monday night’s meeting:

Voting “yes” to develop the civil rights ordinance were Moss and councilmen Ken Siver and Myron Frasier. Voting “no” were Joan Seymour and council President Sylvia Jordan. Councilman Sid Lantz was absent.

That left former mayor and long-time councilman Don Fracassi. His vote would be a make or break on drawing up the ordinance.

After some discussion, Fracassi made up his mind, but left the door open.

“I’ll look at it, but I’m not” in favor of it, he said. Then directing his comments to Moss, he added: “I’m doing it to appease you.”

Fracassi said that he was concerned about who should “take the lead” in developing such an ordinance – the state, federal government or Southfield.

“Things are going all over the place,” he said, noting that the council recently had approved another ordinance ensuring rights, the federal Title VI, that it was not allowed to change, according to the federal government.

For Seymour and Jordan, it was a matter of wanting to see the state act on developing a comprehensive civil rights ordinance that prohibits discrimination due to sexual orientation.

“It should be handled by the state. I have to say no,” Seymour said.

“I have to say no as well,” Jordan said. “The state should make the next move.”

The state's role

That may be unlikely, given that state Attorney General Bill Schuette has filed an appeal of a court ruling that struck down the previously voter-approved ban on same sex marriage.

But to Moss, Southfield’s ordinance was about civil rights, not marriage.

“I know that is a hot button issue,” he said. But he said that developing and passing such an ordinance would cast Southfield as a leader among the other 30 or so cities in the state that have passed such an ordinance, including Royal Oak last November.

What happens next is unclear. Moss says that Fracassi is “progressive,” and he has respect for Fracassi’s opinions.

But, Moss pointed out, no date was set for the city attorney to return to the council with a proposed civil rights ordinance.

“It’s up to the discretion of the council president (Jordan), who is against it,” he said.