Since March, the debate in Roeland Park over whether to pass an ordinance granting the LGBT community equal protection under the law has added high drama
to the sleepy municipality’s otherwise snoozy council meetings. Last week, it looked as though a resolution had been reached, when the council voted
to oppose the ordinance. But a decision in the Council of the Whole meeting Monday night set the table for a revote on the ordinance. An hour later, at the City Council meeting, the ordinance passed, with Mayor Joel Marquardt casting the tie-breaking vote in favor.
The original vote, on July 21, was held without council member Becky Fast present; she told the council that she was in a car accident and could not attend. Her absence sealed the ordinance’s fate. It lost by a 4-3 vote, but had Fast showed up and voted in favor of it, there would have been a tie. Because Marquardt publicly stated that he would have been a “yes” vote, it thus would have passed. Instead, it was defeated.
In the last two weeks, though, many in the community pressed for a revote to be held with Fast present. The council agreed to discuss it at the Committee of the Whole meeting Monday night, which was moved to the Roeland Park Community Center to accommodate the large crowds of residents that have been turning up to voice their opinions on the ordinance.
Michael Rhoades and Sheri McNeil, council members who both opposed the ordinance, spoke up to oppose the revote. Rhoades read a prepared statement urging the council to move on and voicing concern that revisiting the vote would set a dangerous precedent. He also complained that he and other council members who opposed the ordinance had been bullied and harassed because of their “no” votes.
“This is inappropriate on so many levels,” Rhoades said. “I have even asked the city attorney to look at laws about threatening city officials. This has brought out the worst in people and has divided our city.”
A turning point came when Marek Gilniecki, who also opposed the ordinance, piped up and said he supported a revote. “I would like to see this moved to council for a vote,” he said. “Otherwise it’s going to keep being a cloud hanging over the council.”
Rhoades seemed surprised and asked Gilniecki to repeat himself. He did. The matter of holding a revote was then put to a vote and approved, with support from both Gilniecki and Fast. There was then the question of when to hold the vote.
“My position is, we’ve already obviously discussed this, and there’s no need to drag it out any further,” Marquardt said.
Council member Mel Croston — who opposed the ordinance — said, exasperated, “I think this is something we should do tonight because I want this done. I don’t want to live another two weeks like this. Because it’s been a nightmare.”
There was then a short break and some readjusting of tables and chairs for the council meeting. The vote went down the same as on July 21:
Marek Gilniecki: No
Teresa Kelly: Yes
Megan England: Yes
Mel Croston: No
Michael Rhoades: No
Jennifer Gunby: Yes
Sheri McNeil: No
This time, though, Becky Fast was there to cast her vote. She voted “yes.” Tie vote. Marquardt broke the tie with a "yes" vote. Ordinance passed.
There were no whoops from the crowd, just some sighs of relief, a few smiles and a couple of grumbles. Roeland Park is now the third city in Kansas to ban employers and landlords from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. As Monday-night City Council meetings in Roeland Park go, it was a pretty good one.