SAUGATUCK TWP. – The five-person Saugatuck Township Board of Commissioners voted unanimously July 11 to adopt a new ordinance prohibiting discrimination. The new ordinance, called the non-discrimination ordinance, has been under consideration by the Board for two months, Township Clerk Jane Wright said.
“We began addressing this issue in May,” Wright said in a phone interview. “At that point in time there was reservation on the part of some of the board members to make an ordinance, so they wanted a resolution.”
The Board originally planned to consider the resolution at its June meeting, but that is also when the Board had its public hearing for the Township’s budget. Several residents, Wright said, encouraged the Board to delay the conversation on the resolution until July, which it did.
“They (some residents) really were not happy with having a resolution and needed to educate us on why an ordinance would be more desirable,” said Wright. So both a resolution and an ordinance were placed on the Township Board’s agenda for July.
A “vigorous” debate was held, said Wright, and the Board decided to pass the ordinance. Under the ordinance, a person alleging they have been discriminated against must file a written complaint with the Township Clerk or the Township Manager within 30 days of the alleged incident. The person accused of violating the ordinance is provided an opportunity to respond, also in writing.
If a person admits they violated the ordinance, they will be ticketed with a $100 civil infraction. Subsequent violations increase the fine to $250 for a second violation, $500 for the third and so on.
However, if the accused denies the alleged incident, their response is placed on file.
“The purpose of this ordinance is not to go around issuing tickets, but to make a public record,” said Wright. “I don’t believe in our community we are subject to much discrimination, but we don’t have a public record of it. But if we find there is a problem we have the ability to amend the ordinance.”
Wright said Saugatuck Township is a bedroom community on the lakeshore, and is compromised of housing, with a few bars and restaurants. It is one of 800 local governments in Michigan, and one of only a handful that ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Others include Grand Ledge, Lansing, East Lansing, Huntington Woods and Ferndale.
“We value and embrace diversity of all kinds here,” she said.