Photo courtesy of Nathan Triplett

Jackson City Council Defers Action on Referendum Petition

Tense City Council Meeting Ends with No Final Decision on Controversial NDO


Updated March 29:

JACKSON - The Jackson City Council voted on Tuesday night to defer action until April 11 on a referendum petition deemed "legally incapable of certification" by Jackson Together.

"We are deeply disappointed in the City Council's inaction this evening," said the group's campaign manager Conner Wood. "City officials freely acknowledged tonight that this referendum petition failed to comply with the requirements set forth in both the Jackson City Charter and state law and that, as such, could never have been properly validated in the first place. The City Council had a responsibility to reject this invalid petition. Their inaction leaves Jacksonians who oppose discrimination with no choice but to ask the courts to act where the city has failed. That's exactly what we intend to do."

Jackson Together is being represented by John Pirich of Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP. Pirich is one of the state of Michigan's preeminent election law attorneys, with recent successes in challenging a statewide petition aiming to repeal Michigan's prevailing wage in 2015 and representing President Donald Trump's campaign in the 2016 Michigan recount.

"Equality Michigan will continue to support Jackson Together and the people of Jackson in their effort to prohibit discrimination," said Nathan Triplett, Equality Michigan's director of public policy and political action. "In sixteen years of assisting communities across Michigan with their nondiscrimination ordinances, I've never come across a petition handled as poorly as the Jackson City Clerk handled this. It's unprecedented. The City Clerk's personal bias cannot justify or excuse his complete failure to adhere to the legal requirements found in both the Jackson City Charter and state law, a failure admitted tonight by Jackson city officials. We're confident that a court will act where the council failed."

Resorting to RFRA

Catholic leaders in Jackson said they would reverse their position on the city's NDO with one amendment, according to an MLive.com report.

Phillip Berkemeier, a Jackson attorney and parishioner of Queen of the Miraculous Medal Catholic Church, gave an idea of how it could be phrased.

"It's simple, it's one sentence," said Berkemeier. "'Notwithstanding any other provision of this ordinance, a person may not be compelled against his or her religious beliefs to enter into any lease or other contract or arrangement of any kind or to participate in any way in any event or undertaking.'"

But proponents of the NDO say that amendment would nullify the ordinance entirely.

"This would render the ordinance useless," said Jackson Together member Rev. Cynthia Landrum. She said similar ordinances have had no issues in other cities and that this ordinance does not violate First Amendment rights.

Read the full story online at MLive.com.

Original story:

JACKSON - Jackson Together has requested, through its legal counsel, that the Jackson City Council reject a referendum petition as legally "incapable of certification." The petition was filed by an unnamed group seeking to overturn the council's vote to pass a non-discrimination ordinance on Feb. 7, making the city of Jackson the 42nd community in Michigan to adopt the ordinance, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations. The ordinance was adopted, after years of community conversation, by a supermajority vote of the Jackson City Council, which is scheduled to consider the referendum petition during their March 28 meeting.

Citizens in opposition collected enough signatures in an effort to force the matter onto the August ballot. Therefore, the NDO did not go into effect on March 9 as originally planned.

Equality Michigan has been working closely with advocates on the ground to defend the NDO against this attempted run-around of the city's normal legislative process. With EQMI's assistance, Jackson Together - the ballot question committee formed to oppose the repeal of the city's comprehensive NDO - has filed a legal challenge to the validity of the referendum petitions. Counsel for Jackson Together delivered a letter to Jackson City Clerk Andrew Wrozek and Jackson City Attorney Bethany Vujnov outlining a series of significant legal deficiencies in the petition itself and the process used by the City Clerk to "certify" the petition, each of which is sufficient cause to disqualify the referendum petition in its entirety. The deficiencies include the petitioners' failure to adhere to mandatory requirements for referendum petitions set forth in Jackson's City Charter and Michigan's Home Rule Cities Act, and the city clerk's blatant disregard for both substantive and procedural requirements governing the processing of submitted petitions.

Jackson Together is being represented by John Pirich of Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP. Pirich is one of the state of Michigan's preeminent election law attorneys, with recent successes in challenging a statewide petition aimed at repealing Michigan's prevailing wage in 2015 and representing President Donald Trump's campaign in the 2016 Michigan recount.

"In sixteen years of working on nondiscrimination ordinances across Michigan, I've never come across a petition handled as poorly as the Jackson City Clerk handled this," said Nathan Triplett, director of public policy and political action for EQMI. "The City Clerk's personal bias cannot justify or excuse his complete failure to adhere to the legal requirements found in both the Jackson City Charter and state law governing the validity and process of referendum petitions. The Clerk cannot lawfully certify this petition and the Jackson City Council must reject it. Equality Michigan will continue to support Jackson Together and the people of Jackson in their effort to prohibit discrimination in their community."

If the city council, despite the numerous legal deficiencies, fails to reject the invalid petition, Jackson Together is prepared to pursue litigation in the Circuit Court and Appellate Courts to ensure that the law is followed and that this discriminatory petition is not permitted to stand.

"This discriminatory referendum petition is a threat to the livelihoods, homes, dignity, and safety of Jackson residents," said Connor Wood, Jackson Together campaign manager.

"The City Clerk cannot simply ignore the law when it suits him. The Jackson City Council must reject the petition, not only because the law requires it, but because it's the right thing to do for hardworking Jacksonians who want nothing more than live, work, and play in Jackson free from discrimination."

For more information about Jackson Together, visit their Facebook page. Connect with EQMI at http://www.equalitymi.org/.
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