The Wrong Decision for the Wrong Reasons

Mayor Matherly's official photo

Mayor Matherly’s official photo

City of Fairbanks Mayor James Matherly decided to veto Ordinance 6093, titled “An Ordinance Amending FGC Chapter 1 by Adding Sections 1-21 through 1-28 Addressing Equal Rights.” It was introduced by Council Members Ottersten, Kun, Therrien, Rogers, and Mayor Matherly. That’s right, Mayor Matherly vetoed the ordinance he co-introduced. it was the wrong decision for the wrong reasons.

The Mayor issued a Veto Statement announcing his decision. WC doesn’t find much in it that makes sense, let alone justifies the hundreds of person-hours invested in the enactment of the ordinance. But WC will parse the Mayor’s veto message.

Mayor Matherly claims that much of the testimony came from outside the City. Assuming that’s true, what the Mayor is saying is that the city council members are too dumb to sort out what come from a constituent and what did not. That’s just a little cheeky, don’t you think?

Setting aside the reality that a lot of citizens, including WC, worked for decades inside the City, and bought their groceries and services inside the City, technically we lived outside the City. Does that mean out voices would not be entitled to be heard, or our opinions considered? If my transgender friends suffer discrimination when they come to the City to, say, purchase a haircut, does their technical non-residency mean the discrimination is okay? That their voices shouldn’t be heard? Remember, too, that every person actually testifying on the ordinance was required to state their residence. WC suggests nothing in the Mayor’s claim that non-City residents testified justified his veto.

Mayor Matherly wrote, “This Ordinance will not change the attitudes of citizens; no Ordinance will.” WC notes the same can be said of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It didn’t change very many folks’ minds, either. But it did change the law, and most folks will obey the law. As an excuse for vetoing a civil rights ordinance, saying, “It won’t change the attitudes of citizens” has to ranks as pitifully lame. For pity’s sake, Alaskans just celebrated Elizabeth Peratrovich day on February 16. She was the moving force behind the 1945 law giving equal rights to Alaska Natives. She had an answer for all the white senators who said laws would not stop racial discrimination that Mayor Matherly might do well to ponder.. She noted that laws against murder and larceny didn’t necessarily stop those things, either, but this didn’t mean there should not be laws against them. The act was signed into law on February 6, 1945.

Mayor Matherly also said, in his veto message: “By vetoing I am not saying it is okay to discriminate or treat others poorly.”

Yes, Mayor, that’s exactly what you are saying.

You are saying that since a noisy minority have made simple equality controversial, it should go to the public for an advisory vote. But such a vote is legally meaningless. The citizens of the City of Fairbanks have elected the members of the City Council to make this decision. The City Charter, the City’s constitution, assigns this role to the City Council. Not a public vote. Saying an advisory vote should be conducted says some citizens, by reason of their sexuality, are too controversial for the legislative process. You are saying it is “okay to discriminate” against them because that is precisely what your proposed advisory vote will be doing. 

Mayor Matherly said, “this ordinance is bigger than a Mayor and six Council members, and the decision needs to be in the hands of the voters of Fairbanks.” The citizens of Fairbanks can’t make this decision; they will only have an advisory vote. The Mayor’s avowed intent to “introduce a ballot measure that will allow the citizens to express their desires through the voting process” isn’t an initiative; it isn’t citizen legislation. It’s a headcount. But snce when have civil rights been subject to a head count? When did doing the right thing – protecting the civil rights of a minority – require a civic leader to first see if it has broad public support? Do you think President Lyndon John polled the American public before forcing through the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Did he veto it because it was controversial in his home state of Texas?

Remember, the advisory vote won’t accomplish a damned thing. The ordinance will still have to be enacted by the City Council. In the meantime, the persons Ordinance 6093 was intended to protect will still be at risk. That’s on Mayor Matherly’s head. It’s his veto; no, it’s his flip-flop, from sponsor to veto. The next Fairbanks florist who refuses to provide flowers to a gay wedding? Mayor Matherly owns that.

You can see that the excuses offered for the veto don’t make any sense. Which leads to the inference that the excuses are the reason for the Mayor’s fli-flop. WC has his hunches, but will decline to speculate.

But WC will offer this anecdote: some decades ago, WC represented Jim Matherly – the Mayor’s late father – in a messy lawsuit. At one point, WC’s client was offered a “walk-away,” the opportunity to dismiss the case. Jim Matherly Senior told WC, “No, we’re doing the right thing, let’s stay the course.” It was, you see, the right thing to do, even though there were serious risks.

The contrast is pretty clear.