FAIRMONT, W.Va. — A public hearing won’t change the simple truth: the future of a human rights commission ordinance that now protects members of Fairmont’s LGBTQ community is likely headed to a November 2018 referendum.
“I don’t know that anybody’s going to change their vote,” Mayor Thomas Mainella, representing Fairmont’s Eighth District, said Tuesday in a phone call with WAJR. “It’s going to go to the voters to decide.”
Mainella said he’s not changing his vote, part of a 7-2 majority that passed Ordinance 1751, an updated version of a previous human rights commission ordinance, in September.
“I haven’t discussed it with [city council], but they were all pretty adamant back in September when they voted for it,” he said.
Brad Merrifield of the Fourth District and Fran Warner of the Fifth District dissented from the majority on second reading. Mainella said the only thing that has changed since September is what he described as an ongoing misinformation campaign by the West Virginia Family Policy Council to convince voters that the Human Rights Commission is a thinly-disguised attempt at allowing men into women’s restrooms.
“A lot of the people that signed that petition expressed to me and other council people and to [City Clerk] Janet Keller that they wanted to take their names off the petition when they became aware that they signed it under false pretenses,” he said.
Mainella said he had heard from at least a dozen people who tried to retroactively remove their names from the petition circulated by the local group Keep Fairmont Safe. That petition eventually earned 2,008 valid signatures to force the City Council to hear Ordinance 1751 for a third time. He said the deadline to have a name removed from the signature passed Nov. 13, before many of the complaints had even been registered.
“I had one letter, several e-mails, and a lot of people who just told me, ‘I didn’t know what I was signing,'” Mainella said. “Or, ‘I signed it to get rid of this guy.'”
The only thing Council must decide tonight: whether they need another public hearing on the matter. If they go that route, the next public hearing would be held Jan. 9, 2018. If they choose to abstain from a public hearing, the matter will go to the voters next November.
“If people who are interested in this issue do their homework in October and November and they find out what this ordinance really does and that it has nothing to do with a man going into a women’s bathroom, I think they’ll vote in favor of the ordinance,” Mainella said. “I have enough confidence in people.”
“This is ground zero for Allen Whitt and the Family Policy Council, because if he loses here the only other place he’s one is Parkersburg. This is do or die for him.”
If council decides to go through with the public hearing, they could still vote to repeal Ordinance 1751 next year without going to a public referendum. Mainella, again, said he doesn’t expect that outcome. Rather, unless something drastic changes, he said it’ll be for the voters to decide whether or not sexual orientation and gender identity should be protected classes in housing and employment under the city’s Human Rights Commission.
“They can make up their mind one way or another in the Fall and just let it go from that,” he said. “And however the chips fall, we’ll still be a community.”