The Pocatello City Council did not pass an amended version its anti-discrimination ordinance Thursday night. The council was evenly split, with the mayor casting the deciding vote.
Here is the breakdown:
Roger Bray – yes
Steve Brown - no
Craig Cooper - no
Jim Johnston - no
Gary Moore - yes
Eva Johnson Nye - yes
Mayor Brian Blad - no
Many people at the meeting were stunned Blad voted no.
He said with such a divided community, he didn't feel the ordinance was right the way it was.
Nye said she thinks it's a good ordinance, and is proud of the work that was done on it, but the deciding vote came down to Blad.
The vote occurred after Cooper proposed an amendment to target those who “willfully commit” discrimination.
Under the proposed ordinance, a person in the Gate City would not be discriminated against based on “his or her actual or perceived race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, creed, sex, age, marital or familial status, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.”
The proposal had been met with some resistance from citizens who felt “gender identity” was too loosely defined and were afraid this might allow some loopholes for individuals who exploit those who associate with being transgender, such as men who say they are women using the women's restroom or being admitted to women's shelters.
“People can believe what they want,” said attorney Kirk Bybee, who drafted the ordinance.
“What we were doing with this ordinance is regulating their conduct,” he said, referring to those he said were discriminating against others.
Chris Cole spoke with Mayor Blad Thursday morning to address some issues that have come up with the ordinance.
"We cannot afford to be split. We have to be one,” said Blad. “We have to agree to disagree and move on and respect and be a part of the community."
Blad addressed some concerns on both sides of the issue.
One accusation was that an American Religious Freedom Foundation lawyer was paid to come to Pocatello to convince the council to vote no.
"We were never asked to not pass it, never asked to table it, never asked to do any of that. We were asked to just make sure people's rights are protected," said Blad.
He also said the City of Pocatello did not put any funding toward the accommodations of the lawyer, and said he didn't know what funding she received to come to Pocatello.
"She asked if they could give suggestions. We said yes,” Blad said. “They sent us a copy of a draft ordinance, and that was that."
On the other side of the aisle, was the accusation that the American Civil Liberties Union was also brought in with outside dollars to sway the council.
"Truly, before it even started the ACLU was in the middle of it,” said Blad, “Before a draft came out.”
Blad also said meetings happen all the time, and there's just no way to tell everyone about each one.
He said city leaders were accused of holding several closed-door meetings were held and intentionally did not tell the public. However, he emphasized that officials were careful not to go against open meeting laws.
"Somebody wants to come in and meet with me, I'm not going to give notice to everybody that I'm meeting, who I'm meeting with, when I'm meeting, and how I'm meeting," he said.
As of noon Thursday, Blad said the majority of people who have contacted him do not support the ordinance, but there are still a strong number of people that do.
"The best thing for us to do is to find an ordinance that will bring the community together. That's the important thing,” he said. “A community that's split is never going to be able to function."
For those who think this ordinance is a lost cause, there is still hope. Blad said he and the council will continue to discuss an ordinance until an agreement is reached. Blad said they want Bybee to present a new version on May 9.
He also said this has torn the city in several directions, and that's something nobody wants with an ordinance that's supposed to bring the community together.
Blad also said his thoughts are with the city of Idaho Falls as it approaches this same topic.
He said he hopes the Idaho Falls community will not be as strongly divided as Pocatello.
"When you speak to the gay and lesbian population, there's quite a few of them, quite frankly, that wishes this never would have come up,” Blad said. “Because they were living a comfortable life, they were happy, everything was going OK in their life, and now they've been pushed to the front of the line with a spotlight on them."