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“It was terrible that equal rights had to face a vote.” — Steve Hagen, Tucker Open Door member.

Photo by Zoe Holland, VOX ATL Staff

Poster created by Willow Holland

Tucker Becomes the Latest Atlanta Suburb to Embrace a Non-Discrimination Ordinance. Here’s Why It Matters.

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It’s been 30 minutes and Tucker Mayor Frank Auman continues to plead his case to the Tucker City Council against an NDO, or non-discrimination ordinance, for the city of Tucker, GA, only to finish by announcing that they would be taking a 10-minute recess before the vote. Members of the community who showed up for the June 12 meeting have already been there for almost three hours. Hoping to finally get the NDO passed, Council Member Anne Lerner called the question, which would delay the break and force the vote to be done immediately. She was seconded, but the mayor decided to forgo a proper recess and leave the room. Despite this, the attorney advised that the rest of the council had a quorum and could vote without the mayor. They chose to do so, and the vote was unanimous.

Tucker is now the most recent city in Georgia to pass an NDO.

Only 15 cities in Georgia have an NDO, which protects minority groups from discrimination in housing, the workplace, and public accommodations on the basis of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, and disability. “The ordinance’s intent is to fill the gaps not covered by federal and state law and only applies if there is no preemption by federal or state law, or no existing remedy under federal or state law,” Council Member Lerner explained.

Tucker is the newest city to pass an NDO, with a 6-1 vote at the June 12 council meeting. Many community members came out in support of the ordinance and its protections, while others spoke out during the public discussion sharing why they thought it would divide the community. A Tucker resident spoke during the public forum, telling the Council, “This is still a bad law; it will not hold up to the Constitution, and it will not hold up in court…This ordinance does not respect all of the views in Tucker…”

Lerner responded: “Our ordinance makes it clear that Tucker is a welcoming and supportive community for all. People not only want to be welcomed but they want to feel that they belong.  We’ve done that by passing this ordinance.”

The vote followed a lengthy drafting and amendment process that has been going on since 2019. Tucker Open Door, a group dedicated to making Tucker a safe place for everyone, spearheaded the movement with the original draft and continued to make contributions until the ordinance was able to pass. 

“I emailed Tucker Mayor Auman in June of 2019. After three emails and no response I then emailed the entire council,” said Steve Hagen, a member of Tucker Open Door. “That was the beginning of a process many thought should take 90 days, and here we are four years later!” 

Council members Anne Lerner, Virginia Rece, and Cara Schroeder played a primary role in working through the ordinance since last year. 

The one vote not in favor of the NDO on June 12 came from the first and only mayor of Tucker, Auman, who won the first election in 2016 after Tucker became a city. After the second read, he proposed five amendments, which all died for lack of a second. He shared his views opposing the ordinance in a drawn-out plea, saying, “This is me, acting as the mayor of Tucker, concerned about a law…that fails to achieve its stated intentions, and creates a whole range of unintended consequences.”

“It was terrible that equal rights had to face a vote. That was one of Tucker Mayor Auman’s suggestions, which wisely did not get a second,” said Hagen.

Ultimately, Auman was outnumbered and left the room soon before the vote for a break, even after the question was called and seconded. Mayor Auman returned later to record his vote as a “no” and reprimanded the council members for their disrespect in voting without him.

Atlanta was the first Georgia city in 2000 to pass an NDO, and since then, other cities have followed suit, including Doraville (2018), Chamblee (2019), and Smyrna (2020). These cities have significantly influenced newer NDOs and have often had ordinances modeled after them. 

When explaining why it took until 2018 for cities other than Atlanta to pass NDOs, Jeff Graham, the executive director of Georgia Equality, pointed out that many city councils’ governments felt as though they could not make a decision on discrimination laws, as there were none at the federal level. Graham told VOX ATL that everything changed when Stephe Koontz, the first openly transgender person to win a contested election in Georgia, was elected to Doraville City Council. Koontz strongly advocated for an NDO, as it was an issue very special to her. Once that NDO was passed, it gave other cities the go-ahead to pass their own NDOs.

Recently an NDO draft from June 2021 was revived and brought to the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners for consideration. This ordinance would cover parts of the county that don’t have or aren’t currently covered by NDOs, and would be monumental in setting a precedent for other counties to pass their own NDOs that cover many areas. If it is cleared out of the committee, this NDO is set to be voted on at the July 11 DeKalb Board of Commissioners meeting.

A potential benefit for Tucker and other cities that have or are planning to pass NDOs is an accepting image for people who already reside there, or businesses looking for a location – “… a positive effect is that a progressive business that is looking to locate, this will be one item in the positive column instead of the negative column,” Hagen claims.

Lerner shared what she wants people from outside of Tucker to take away from the news coverage about the passing of the NDO: “I hope they saw members of the Tucker community willing to engage in discussion with shared humility and respect as we learn more by talking through complex issues instead of mobilizing people based on fear and anger. I also hope they know that even if we come to different policy conclusions…we come back to our shared goal of serving Tucker — all of Tucker.”

Graham also shared why NDOs are important in many ways. First, he said that while the 2020 Bostock v Clayton County ruling determined that sexual orientation is protected by the Georgia Fair Employment Practices Act, that law only protects state employees. In addition, it’s not explicitly stated, so NDOs make it clear to employers and employees that there are protections against discrimination.

Graham also added that NDOs give local governments the ability to handle complaints much faster than the federal government is able to. Graham finished by reiterating that NDOs make it clear to all residents of a city or county that their government cares about them and that they live in a welcoming community. Statements and releases are good, but putting a law behind this acceptance gives it real weight.

“Time for DeKalb County and Georgia to join the 17 other states which have passed [non-discrimination] laws…Georgia needs to start leading instead of dragging [its] feet,” said Hagen, who played a major role in the passing of Tucker’s NDO, and may have started a snowball movement for DeKalb County in the right direction.

 


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comments (1)

  1. Steve Hagen

    Thanks to Zoe Holland of Tucker High School just east of Atlanta for informing the Teen community on the importantbissue. Prior to this story I did not know about VoxATL.org