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Fairness Ordinance: The Contrasting Styles of Kerby and Connelly

05.28.11 06:24 PM – Andy McDonald
The Fairness Ordinance would never have gotten this far under Mayor Clifford Kerby.

I think Mayor Kerby cared deeply about social justice. But I also believe he had definite ideas about the role of local government. He was a good Democrat, but when it came to administration, he had the heart of a conservative. He didn't care much for spending,and he believed there were only certain things local government should do.

When people asked the Berea City Council to expand the role of government, Kerby would hear them out, but he would often quash the discussion with a pocket veto of sorts. If he didn’t agree with a proposal, discussion of that issue seemed to tumble to the bottom of the city’s priority list.

One example is an incident in which residents demanded a law requiring dog owners to keep their pets either confined or on a leash. Kerby resisted. People hadn’t complained before, and Kerby never cared for imposing new regulations. Moreover, he didn’t want his officers taking time fielding complaints about Fido leaving his calling card on a neighbor’s lawn.

The issue was stalled for a while, but when a complaint came to light about a child being terrorized by a roaming canine, Kerby relented. The calculation had changed. He didn’t like the council imposing a new law, but he tolerated it. With reports of frightened children, there was a legitimate need for local government intervention. Kerby signed Berea’s leash law.

Mayor Steve Connelly’s style is decidedly different. For him, the question of whether an issue deserves review isn’t a matter convenience or political calculation; it’s a matter of whether an individual or group has the right to have their concerns heard. With the proposal of a new idea, Kerby often had the attitude of, “Why should we do that?” Connelly’s approach seems to be, “Why shouldn’t we?”

Connelly’s philosophy has its advantages, particularly if you’re a political underdog. There’s no idea that’s too dangerous to talk about. He’s willing to allow citizens to have their say, even if their stance is unpopular. He’s not afraid to use government to remedy problems brought to him by the citizens. Connelly, in my observation, believes in government that is active, accessible, and flexible. Kerby believed the same – but to a certain point.

On the issue of the proposed Fairness Ordinance, I think the two mayors would have concurred that housing and employment discrimination is wrong. I suspect their difference would have been the degree to which local government is responsible for actively remedying that discrimination.

Many view the Fairness Ordinance as a noble and worthwhile cause. In the sense that it is intended to protect citizens from discrimination, that may be true. But it does so by stretching the scope of local government’s responsibility. The council is being called upon to implement new regulations and add a new layer of citizen oversight to effect social change. That, I think Clifford Kerby would argue, goes beyond the city’s mandate.

The core objective of the city of Berea is to make sure the city works: things like fixing roads and sidewalks, maintaining parks, keeping the police and fire departments operating, enforcing ordinances and building codes, promoting public safety, and facilitating the smooth operation of commerce and industry in Berea. For some, that’s an unreasonably narrow scope of responsibility, but I think it’s one which Kerby would have endorsed.

Within that definition of local government’s responsibilities, voters do not give the council a mandate to expend city resources to promote a social agenda, whether it’s liberal or conservative, gay or straight. The job of municipal government is administration and the proper stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

But there’s not much talk about that. The discussion about the Fairness Ordinance has devolved into something ugly. Those who support the measure are said to condone unnatural lifestyles that are an abomination to God. Those who oppose the ordinance are labeled simpletons or bigots. Along the way, an important question has been lost in this public food fight: Political agendas aside, what is the proper role of local government in this instance?

The city is not mandated to enforce social codes outlined in the Old Testament. But neither should the council be compelled to enact social legislation when there is no documented evidence of any housing or employment discrimination against gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgendered citizens in city limits. Even in something as simple as enacting a leash law, Mayor Kerby and the council required some compelling evidence that there was a need for city intervention and legislation. Why should the Fairness Ordinance be held to a lesser standard?

The implementation of the Fairness Ordinance means the potential expenditure of tax dollars, as well as an expansion of the city’s scope of responsibility. As such, the council would be wise to await more evidence to decide whether it is justified introducing new legislation.
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