Monday, April 23, 2012
Amendment One resolution removed from County Commission agenda
The Daily Beast was correct in naming Durham, NC the most tolerant city in America. Some of the members of the Board of County Commissioners didn’t get the memo. A lack of leadership involving a resolution on Amendment One has left the board at odds with those who make Durham their home.
It was a case of too little too late. I was encouraged when Michael Page, chair of the Board of County Commissioners, informed me of his desire to place the resolution on the agenda at tonight’s meeting. Lowell Siler, the county attorney, advised the board to remove the item from the agenda after the Institute of Government informed him the resolution would put the county at risk.
Siler contacted the Institute of Government due to opposition from Dick Ford, research chairman for the Durham Republican Party. In a letter sent to Siler, Ford argued that passing a resolution during Early Voting would amount to “an impermissible use of public resources to influence an election.”
“Clearly, this resolution has been proposed to aid the campaign against the Marriage Amendment,” Ford writes. “It is intended to tell Durham County voters how they should vote.”
Ford’s contention raises apprehension related to why the Board of County Commissioners would consider the resolution after the start of early voting. Their passive response lends credence to assertions that the proposal is a political maneuver to placate those critical of a lack of leadership in opposing Amendment One.
Moving on the resolution became politically expedient when the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People moved to contest the amendment. Before then it was a political wait and see. The lack of courage in denouncing the amendment led the Rev-elution to not endorse any of the incumbents in the upcoming election.
Page responded to not receiving an endorsement with a promise to bring a resolution before the board. That promise would have been fulfilled at tonight’s meeting, but Ford’s dispute forced the hand of the legal team at the county. Moving now is too risky. The lack of courage in placing an agenda item before the board before the start of voting raises serious questions about the quality of leadership at the head of the board.
It’s that hiccup in the process that impeded the board bringing attention to how the passage of Amendment One would impact the quality of life of those living in Durham County. Responsible leadership advises voters of the potential harm linked to those precious votes. Ford’s problem with discussing Amendment One now is the timing. People are voting. Minds are made up. It’s too late.
“The General Assembly set this referendum on the ballot months ago,” Ford writes. “The Commissioners must respect the electoral process and let the voters decide. While they as individuals can use their own resources to advocate, they cannot use public taxpayer funds. Yet this is what is scheduled to occur Monday night.”
So, why did it take the board so long to consider Amendment One? It would be too simple to blame Page for pushing it back as he monitored the political consequences of the amendment. It would be easy to claim he didn’t know which position to take. As a minister, I both understand and appreciate the angst that comes with taking a stance that may be disputed by members of the congregation.
That’s why I define it as a lack of courage. It’s hard to find it while waffling between divergent political camps. It took courage when Bill Bell and members of the City Council took a position on the amendment long before the local political action committees voiced an opinion. They moved based on conviction, not what is politically expedient. That’s courage. That’s leadership.
Ellen Reckhow, vice-chair of the Board of County Commissioners, has shown courage in opposing the Amendment from the beginning. She signed a letter on September 11, 2011 with leaders representing seven of eight state jurisdictions offering domestic partner benefits. The open letter to “Members of the North Carolina General Assembly,” was also signed by Bill Bell, but not by Page, the chair of the board.
The letter argued that the amendment "represents a threat to North Carolina’s ability to recruit the diverse workforce needed to compete in a global economy, will strip public employees of domestic partner benefits while also hindering benefits in the private sector, and perpetuates a divisive social agenda that is unwelcoming and not reflective of our state."
Living in a city called the most tolerant in the nation comes with a price. The nation is watching us to lead the way toward being affirming of all our citizens. The ball was dropped with the Board of County Commissioners and the opposing team is dribbling down the other end of the court. The lack of a resolution suggests a lack of bold leadership that defines what it means to live in Durham. We demand more in Durham. This is not a place that allows space to feel the crowd before stepping forward with a plan. If you can’t get with the program, get out of the kitchen.
They waited too long. The problem is we don’t have time to waste.