The Clarksdale Board of Mayor and Commissioners unanimously gave its approval Monday night to a non-discrimination ordinance that welcomes all and, according to one of its main proponents, “preaches the same thing: love and inclusion.”
With its vote, Clarksdale becomes the first town in the Mississippi Delta to approve the non-discrimination ordinance that is in stark contrast to the highly controversial House Bill 1523 that was passed by the state legislature in 2016.
Rob Hill, who is executive director of the Human Rights Campaign of Mississippi, said HB 1523 was “not friendly to the LGBT community” while the non-discrimination ordinance passed Monday “clearly expresses this is a safe city” for gays, lesbians and the transgender.
The ordinance passed Monday offers non-discrimination protections that include sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, public accommodations and employment.
Clarksdale is the third city in Mississippi to pass such an ordinance; Jackson passed one in 2016 and Magnolia passed one in 2017.
“This is a positive thing,” Hill said. “Communities come to us and say, ‘I want to do something tangible to say that everybody is welcome in our community. I can shop here. I can live here. And I can work here and not face discrimination.”
When signed into law, Clarksdale’s citizens will be protected from discrimination in housing, public accommodations and employment on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, disability, marital status, familial status and veteran status.
Mississippi is one of 30 states without comprehensive LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination protections. The Religious Liberty Accommodations Act, also called the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act or HB 1523, has been often called the most sweeping anti-gay legislation in the country.
The law singles out three “sincerely held” religious beliefs as worthy of protection: that marriage is between one man and one woman; that people should not have sex outside such marriages; and that a person’s gender is set at birth.
Commissioner Ken Murphey said when HB 1523 was passed, there was a lot of negative feedback in the Clarksdale community, particularly with one business that saw a significant loss of business due to the legislation. He said he understands the need for an ordinance.
“This is good for our tourism base,” Murphey said. “The tourists pay attention to these kinds of things, they really do.”
Hill agreed, as he said, “It costs nothing to do, but it pays dividends.”
He said Clarksdale’s passage of the ordinance will speak volumes.
“It shows that we are open for everybody. We want your presence. We want you to feel safe. We want you to spend money in our community,” Hill said.
City Attorney Margarette Meeks said Clarksdale’s ordinance mirrors the one that was passed by Jackson. The only change she suggested was in regard to fines for violating the ordinance. The first violation will result in a $500 fine with each subsequent penalty being $1,000.
In other action, commissioners:
Took no action regarding complaints about a business at 1604 Martin Luther King Blvd.
Nora McNeal, who owns property adjacent to the business, has voiced complaints to the commission in the past about loud noises, alcohol use and late hours. McNeal claimed the business owner was in violation of numerous stipulations that the city had placed on the property several years ago.
However, City Attorney Margarette Meeks said Monday that the property changed hands on April 4 and that those stipulations “no longer apply because there is a new owner.”
The current property owner, Darry Jenkins, said Monday that he planned to cease operating the business.
But McNeal questioned if that would be the case as she said, “We got a mess on our hands. We know Mr. Jenkins. We know his history.”
But Meeks said the issues raised by McNeal are “moot” because Jenkins planned to no longer operate the business.
“We’ll have to take him at his word until he proves otherwise,” Meeks said.
Gave its approval to a change in a conditional-use permit within the city’s downtown that will allow property owner Mark Benson to build two residential apartments at the rear of his building located at 250 Delta Ave. The local planning commission had recommended approval of the change.
Unanimously agreed to a four-year lease agreement between the city and 212 Third Street LLC in regard to 20 parking spaces in the city-owned parking lot on Third Street. The company will lease each parking space for $1 per month, paid annually, and they will be used by guests at the Travelers Rest hotel, which is currently under construction and scheduled to open this winter.
Approved a bid of $94,247 by Suncoast Infrastructure to raise the manholes located along the Sunflower River. The project, which will be funded by grant monies, will help prevent floodwater from getting into the city’s stormwater system when the river rises.
Agreed to execute a contract between the city and DC Services, out of Oxford, for the expansion of the city-owned MAP building. The contract is for $578,000, which will be
Declared several properties as a menace and added them to the list of homes to be demolished by the city. The properties are located at: 222 Carolina Ave., 218 Carolina Ave., 223 Alabama Ave. and 412 Ashton Ave. Commissioners voted to wait two more weeks before making a decision on a property at 228 Sixth St. They also agreed to put a hold on demolition of a home at 504 Iowa Ave., allowing the new property owner to obtain a permit and complete renovation within the next six months.
Voted to hire Dorothy Henley as a patrol officer and Tristian Whitehead as a firefighter. Resignations were accepted for Danny Streeter and Meeks.
Heard from commissioner Ed Seals that the following streets have severe pothole problems. Those include North State Street (beside Byrd’s Urgent Care Medical Clinic), Desoto Avenue (beside Church’s Chicken) and the intersection of Ritchie Avenue and Bloom Street. He also said a vacant lot near Union Grove Baptist Church needs to have the grass cut.
Went into executive session to discuss litigation involving Clarksdale Public Utilities. The board took no action.