My thoughts: Proud of civil debate about Carmel’s anti-discrimination ordinance
On Aug. 17, the Carmel City Council listened to three hours of impassioned citizens speak about their thoughts on the proposed anti-discrimination ordinance. The councilors sat patiently and listened to each comment. They didn’t engage with the speakers or debate them. They chastised the crowd if they cheered or booed or made comments. It was an example of democracy in action. Everyone was heard. There were no time limits. No bullying. Nothing but respect.
But some people don’t want it that way and I’m talking about advocates on both sides of this issue.
I’ve only missed one city council meeting in the nearly two years I’ve covered the council and I can say that there were many, many people I’ve never seen at a council meeting before. It was packed. And people were emotional. And I don’t think a lot of people read the ordinance before making their comments.
I do not take sides. It feels weird that I have to keep repeating that but so many journalists are subtly advocating for one side or another.
I am objective in my reporting about what happens in the city. But one thing I will say personally is this: I think Carmel is a great city. Whether you voted for Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard or his opponent Rick Sharp, whether you support or oppose the anti-discrimination ordinance, we can agree that Carmel is a friendly city.
It’s not the city that some media outlets want to portray it as with snobby close-minded rude people and “Stepford Wives.”
When I looked at the message boards and Facebook comments about the city council meeting, I saw a lot of people from Indianapolis who said, “That’s Carmel for you. So disappointing.” or “That’s why I’ll never live in Carmel.”
It kind of irritated me because odds are most of those people have never really spent any time in this city.
I grew up just south of 96th Street. I graduated from North Central High School in 2002 and Carmel High School was our rival school. We made jokes about them. We assumed they were all WASPs with million-dollar homes. We assumed that none of the wives worked for a living. We assumed it was homogeneous and ultra-conservative.
Two things probably changed. For one, I grew up.
I’m not an immature high school student anymore. But probably more importantly, Carmel has changed. The population has grown. New luxurious rental units at Sophia Square and the Carmel City Center are attracting younger residents. It’s not all white, older people here anymore. There are people of all faiths, races and sexual orientation in Carmel.
When it was reported that the meeting went on for three hours, one person I know commented that “people in Carmel must really hate gay people.”
No, that isn’t the case. This ordinance wouldn’t have been introduced in the first place if that was the case. People wouldn’t have felt the need to talk for three hours if Carmel was filled with homophobic haters because the councilors would vote down the ordinance in 15 minutes.
The reason there were three hours of speeches is because Carmel is committed to a free flow of ideas – whether you agree with them or not.
Some who attended the meeting assumed that Carmel was primarily in opposition to the ordinance since most of the speakers were against it.
But the fact is that many of the supporters chose not to speak. How do I know they were supporters?
They attended the rally in support before the meeting and posed for photos and wore red stickers that said, “Zero Discrimination.” It was fairly obvious.
From that perspective, you can see that those in attendance were about evenly split on the issue but one side decided to speak more than the other. Yet many local media outlets misrepresented the evening and described it as a parade of people on one side of the issue.
This doesn’t bother me because I support one side or another. I don’t take a side in this. It bothers me because it’s inaccurate. I was there and that’s not what I saw.
The media came into the evening with a story ready to tell even if it wasn’t accurate.
They describe an enormous amount of support for the law because six out of seven city councilors sponsored it. Well, sponsoring the legislation doesn’t mean you support it. It just means you want the issue to be introduced.
City councilors repeatedly chastised the media for getting this fact wrong and then it was wrong again in the next day’s coverage by many of those same outlets.
Many media outlets acted as if it was a foregone conclusion that the anti-discrimination ordinance was going to be voted on and possibly approved that night.
For one, they didn’t know that it takes a unanimous vote to suspend the rules and vote on an ordinance immediately.
And second they didn’t bother to ask the city councilors. Some would say that was always going to go to committee for review, especially when new amendments were added. And it only takes one councilor to make that decision since it has to be unanimous. Yet when the bill wasn’t voted on immediately, some opponents described it as a victory and some supporters saw it as a step back. That’s because the media described the decision to send it to committee as “hesitation” and “feeling pressure.” It’s just part of the procedure.
While some people want to bash Carmel, I was proud of my city.
Yes, some speakers rambled. Some said slightly crazy things. Some made no sense. (Too be fair, most were passionate and reasonable and fair. And I say that from both sides).
Did the meeting drag on too long? Probably. (All the talk of making cakes at a gay wedding was making me really hungry. I was about to order a pizza!) But that’s democracy. It isn’t always pretty, and sometimes it takes a long time. But that’s how we make sure everyone is heard and respected and I’m proud of my city for being a place where people can express themselves without leading to riots, protests, vandalism or hatred.
We can talk about things. And that’s the way it should be.