Beckley Common Council is expected to pass on second reading a local ordinance that will protect against discrimination based on the hair texture and protective hairstyle of a race or ethnic minority, but a number of Beckley residents also want to share their personal stories to Council during the regular meeting on Tuesday.
Beckley Mayor Rob Rappold said Monday that he anticipates that Council will pass the ordinance.
The seven-member body voted unanimously to pass the proposed ordinance, which was written by city attorney Bill File, on first reading during the last Council meeting. Council will vote again during the regular Tuesday evening meeting. If a majority of Council members vote in favor of the ordinance, it will become law.
“I would be surprised if it didn’t get the necessary votes,” Rappold said, pointing out that Council had unanimously passed the measure just two weeks ago.
A number of supporters of the ordinance are planning to gather on the lawn of City Hall to stage a “Bring Your Own Chair” gathering, Dr. Kristi Dumas said on Monday.
Due to Covid concerns, the regular Council meeting is scheduled to be published to the public via a Webex link. Council members are expected to appear at City Hall in person for the meeting, but members of the public must call in during the public comment session in order to speak.
Dumas, a member of the city Human Rights Commission, was a leader in the effort to pass the Crown Ordinance, along with Commission Chair Danielle Stewart and Beckley PRIDE President Christina Baisden.
According to Dumas, a “groundswell” of people came forward to share their experiences with hair discrimination in school and at work in Beckley since the movement to pass the ordinance started. Some of the residents have feared retaliation for supporting the ordinance, added Dumas.
She said that around 70 people have signed up to speak about their support for the ordinance during the last three Council meetings by using the call-in system. Only about 25 people have been permitted to speak during the meetings, according to Dumas. “It is believed that every Beckley resident has the right to voice their opinion and attest to the need for and importance of the Beckley Crown Ordinance during public city Council meetings,” Dumas said in a press release on Monday.
Stewart reported that around 20 speakers were not called on to speak during the last Council meeting. “Christina (Baisden) talks to the city, and the city is blaming the people and (city IT) department,” said Stewart. “I have no idea of the truth, though.”
Stewart noted that more citizens have been utilizing Webex and calling in to virtually “attend” the Council meetings. “Lots of people are tuning in for the first time these past few months, so anything is possible,” she said.
According to Dumas, city officials have not yet provided a satisfactory reason for why speakers were not permitted to talk to Council. For the May 11 Council meeting, Dumas said organizers have asked city officials to permit speakers to enter the Council Chambers one by one and, wearing masks and maintaining social distance, to share with Council members their support for the proposed ordinance.
She said the move would assure that all speakers have the opportunity to address Council, but city officials have denied the request, citing Covid concerns. “While we, too. are confident that the ordinance will pass. and we appreciate the support and positive stance of the mayor, we feel it is important that constituents be heard,” Dumas said. “This is critical to fortifying the confidence of residents in the political system who already feel as if their vote doesn’t count and their voice doesn’t matter.”
- Advice to listen to the Crown Ordinance
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