It was standing-room-only at last night’s Homer City Council meeting.
Over 100 people packed into Cowles Council Chambers and overflowed into the lobby, waiting to testify on a controversial resolution promoting inclusivity.
The resolution, which was co-sponsored by Council Members Donna Aderhold, Catriona Reynolds and David Lewis, cited recent violence targeting religious groups, minorities, and the LGBTQ community.
It also officially rejected discrimination against any group with regard to “race, religion, ethnicity, gender, national origin, physical capabilities or sexual orientation” and expressed a commitment to creating a safe, inclusive community.
The Council rejected the resolution in a 5 to 1 vote, with Council Member Reynolds voting in favor.
“I have witnessed people who live in our community who have already had to endure an increase of hate and bullying,” said Reynolds. “When you aren’t [on] the receiving end of abuse because of religion or skin color or sexual orientation, it’s easy to think it doesn’t happen here. But it does happen here.”
Before voting, the Council heard three and a half hours of public testimony from 97 people. The majority strongly opposed the resolution.
“The fact that this room is filled with people that are here in opposition to this resolution should be a reminder to you that you are elected officials,” said John Butcher. “As an elected official, your position can be filled in the next election cycle or sooner if you don’t do your job.”
Much of the controversy stemmed from a draft resolution posted to social media, which included several clauses critical of President Trump. Those clauses were removed before Monday’s council meeting.
Local business owner Coletta Walker argued the resolution would hurt the town’s image and negatively affect tourism.
“You have done a great harm to this community. I for one am appalled that someone thinks that they need to dictate to me how to be hospitable and community-minded. It is not the responsibility of government to dictate to its people to be kind,” said Walker.
The resolution emphasized the city’s commitment to cooperating with federal agencies in detaining undocumented immigrants, but a number of residents expressed concern that it appeared to be advocating for providing sanctuary.
Others voiced support for the resolution, including Lindsay Martin.
“I am a Korean-born citizen of the United States who is new to Homer. Positive and welcoming interactions with my fellow Homer citizens make up a majority of my day,” said Martin. “However, the negative experiences I have had are significant enough and based in my ethnic identity that I support this resolution.”
Julia Person said she originally thought the resolution was unnecessary and wasn’t planning to give public testimony. What she heard in the audience at last night's City Council meeting, however, changed her mind.
“When I heard people talk about tolerance and then when the word Muslim came up and they made all these derogatory remarks, I realized the illusion of tolerance in this town is very deep,” said Person.
Despite the controversy, much of the proposed resolution is already embedded in state and federal law, said Homer resident and lawyer Andy Haas.
“This is a Rorschach test. We look at this and we all see different things. As a lawyer, when I look at this, I can tell you that the body of the resolution merely restates the law,” said Haas.
Alaska's criminal code does not define hate crimes as a distinct offense. However, AS 12.55.155 does allow for the possibility of a more severe sentence if a “defendant has knowingly directed the conduct constituting the offense at a victim because of that person's race, sex, color, creed, physical or mental disability, ancestry or national origin." Bias due to sexual orientation is not included as an aggravating factor.
The next Homer City Council meeting is scheduled for March 13.