Denton City Council

Council members have a discussion regarding a possible city nondiscrimination ordinance during a work session Tuesday at City Hall.

Denton city staff said it would take a few weeks to come back to City Council with ideas and suggestions for a nondiscrimination ordinance.

Tuesday’s work session saw a batch of different council members, elected after the last conversation in October, voice their thoughts alongside their more senior colleagues in about an hourlong conversation about a nondiscrimination ordinance that would prohibit discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Council members Brian Beck, Vicki Byrd and Alison Maguire were supportive of a nondiscrimination ordinance, suggesting city staff look to Plano’s ordinance as a starting point. After listening to staff direction and answering some questions, Chief of Staff Sarah Kuechler said staff would need a few weeks to bring something back to the table.

“I just kept coming back to the city of Plano, especially for the investigation part,” she said. “I agree with the Fort Worth mediation part. I came back to Plano the enforcement and the complaints. … But overall, I think that … we need to find an area that looks more like us.”

On employment issues, Plano refers complainants to state or federal entities, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. On enforcement with public accommodations, they can issue $500 fines for violations of the city ordinance.

Council members have debated on the need for a nondiscrimination ordinance on and off for about two years now. Current council member Deb Armintor, an at-large council member, first proposed the ordinance years ago and council member Jesse Davis, District 3, reintroduced the ordinance in October 2020.

Davis also showed support of Plano’s model, adding that Dallas and Fort Worth’s models may not fit the Denton mold since the demographics and population sizes are different.

Davis said he doesn’t want a Denton ordinance to touch religious exemptions. He said it would bring back 2017 discussions where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick introduced the “bathroom bill” that would bar transgender Texans from accessing the bathroom they’re most comfortable with.

Armintor and Maguire stressed a Denton ordinance shouldn’t burden transgender and nonbinary individuals who already face stress with using the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity versus a bathroom that fits the gender they were assigned at birth.

Council member Paul Meltzer, who attended virtually, said he’s supportive of some of Plano’s elements, but he said he wants staff to find what the complaints the cities that staff researched received and what happened as a result.

“We’re trying to get the benefit of the fact that other cities have done this before, some years before us, but I think we can get more benefit, especially for an agreement that we want to put more time and resources into this investigation to find out what actually happened,” Meltzer said. “I think it would help us a lot to know what are the actual issues that really do come up when people have the advantage of these ordinances and what was the resolution and to go one step further.”

Council members were in favor of a Denton ordinance to lay out plans to refer potential violations out to federal agencies such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rather than follow in Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin’s footsteps of establishing offices that are certified with those agencies to investigate the complaints locally.

Davis and Maguire said Denton doesn’t have the resources to be fully certified by those agencies.

Denton’s current policy when staff receives a complaint of housing or employment violation based on discrimination is to connect the complainant to the EEOC if it’s an employment complaint and connect complainants to local agencies that can assist in landlord-tenant disputes.

If the case is a potential fair housing violation, Kuechler said they can connect a complainant to HUD.

The City Council also unanimously approved a Chapter 380 grant for $175,125 over five years for Safran Electrical Components USA Inc. to move its Santa Rosa, California, facility to Denton on Russell Newman Boulevard.

Through Chapter 380 agreements, municipalities can offer incentives to companies to promote economic development.

According to a presentation, the relocation would bring 157 new jobs to Denton. Safran’s annual payroll is expected to be $9 million, with an average pay of $57,505 for all of its positions, and they would make $1.7 million in improvements to the facility on Russell Newman.

Safran is an international high-tech and tier-1 supplier of systems and equipment in aerospace/aviation and defense markets, the presentation states.

“This is an existing business in our city,” Maguire said. “We know that they are legit, so I move approval.”

ZAIRA PEREZ can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @zairalperez.

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