City residents could get the chance to vote on a recently adopted anti-discrimination ordinance, but they might have to wait nearly a year.
City commissioners in October ushered in an ordinance that protects gays from discrimination. The measure prohibits employers from firing workers just because of their sexual orientation, and also bans housing complexes from discriminating against gay renters.
Opponents of the new ordinance vowed to force an election on the matter shortly after it passed, and this week said they're still on track to do so.
"We're in pretty good shape," said city resident Paul Nepote, the new law's most vocal opponent.
Under city rules, Nepote and friends need 482 signatures to force an election, Deputy City Clerk Benjamin Marentette said. That number is based on 25 percent of the total vote count of the highest vote-getter in the last election.
Nepote said he and others likely have collected 100 more signatures than required. City officials will throw out duplicate signatures, those not from city residents and others that aren't up to snuff.
"You've got to probably have 20 to 25 percent more than you need, because they'll throw them out for everything," Nepote said.
If Nepote gets his signatures in and approved, the issue will be placed on the November 2011 general election ballot at "minimal" cost to the city, City Manager Ben Bifoss said. But city officials also could opt to hold a special election in February at an estimated cost of $20,000.
Much discussion has focused on the cost of an election, but Nepote said he won't be troubled if a special election isn't scheduled.
"We're not trying to force the city to spend money for the hell of it. All we want to do is have it voted on," he said.
Mayor Chris Bzdok said it makes sense to wait until November.
"Speaking for myself, it's a no-brainer," he said. "You put it on the general election and you do it at no additional cost."
An "incidental benefit" of waiting until November is that residents will have had plenty of time by then to see how the ordinance impacts the city.
Commissioner Jim Carruthers, who is gay, said he isn't surprised that Nepote appears to have followed through with his promise to force an election.
"It's his right to do it, but it's unfortunate that he's wasting everyone's time and energy on it," he said.
But Carruthers isn't concerned that residents will repeal the ordinance.
"I have a belief that, when it comes down to it, they will vote against discrimination," he said.
About 10 years ago, city commissioners passed a legally non-binding anti-discrimination resolution after a long-running and sometimes vicious debate. Not long after, opponents secured a measure on a city election ballot that sought to prevent the city from passing an anti-discrimination ordinance.
City voters defeated that ballot initiative.