You probably have noticed the sprouting of signs urging you to vote in the upcoming Primary/Special Election in Tempe on August 26. I certainly urge you to be a faithful citizen and cast your ballot. The Center for Arizona Policy has a voter's guide that you can download at azvoterguide.com to help you gather some info on the candidates and other issues that are on the ballot as they relate to issues important to people of faith.
Most of us receive lots of postcards in the mail asking us to support this or that candidate. But one caught my eye; it was from the Mayor and two Tempe Council members urging me to vote YES on Prop 475 so that we "keep Moving Tempe forward" and "strengthen our great reputation". This ballot proposition amends the City Charter. Amending a City charter or a constitution is usually a pretty serious matter, which got my attention, so I was curious as to what Prop 475 is all about.
Here's the exact Ballot Proposition (the old language has a strike through it and the new language is in caps): "No person shall be appointed to, removed from, favored in any way or discriminated against with respect to any city position because of race, sex, political or religious affiliation, COLOR, GENDER, GENDER IDENTITY, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, RELIGION, NATIONAL ORIGIN, FAMILIAL STATUS, AGE, POLITICAL AFFILIATION, DISABILITY, OR UNITED STATES MILITARY VETERAN STATUS, EXCEPT AS SUCH FAVOR MAY BE AUTHORIZED BY LAW."
Is there or has there been a problem with discriminatory hiring practices in the City of Tempe government that requires this change? Has this Mayor or any past Mayor or City Administrator since the Civil Rights Act was passed discriminated against anyone in hiring them or appointing them to City Boards and Commissions? Has this Mayor or any past mayor including a past Mayor who was gay (who won a recall election by a landslide) or city agency refused to hire an orphaned Chinese-descent lesbian single mother Vet who practices Islam? Well as far as I know, and after asking some people who are more familiar with the governance of Tempe, there has never been a problem of this nature, at least none that anyone can remember. So in essence Prop 475 is a solution to a problem that does not exist and most likely never will.
It is important to remember that when the original civil rights legislation was enacted, that included race, religion, gender, national origin, there was REAL and ACTUAL discrimination going on. Back in the 50's my classmate's father, who was a brain surgeon, was refused employment at a Catholic Hospital because he was Japanese. And of course we are all familiar with the racially discriminatory hiring practices towards blacks prior to the civil rights era. So when these laws and policies were first enacted they were tackling an actual problem that harmed real people. In light of that it seems the City of Tempe wants to fix something that is not broken.
So why did the city leaders include these new categories and not others in the amended proposition? Well I think it is pretty obvious but I will say it was clever to include Vets in that list. Once you start expanding the list beyond very general categories you are sure to leave some groups out. So as it is written I guess the City can refuse to hire or appoint anyone who is obese, bald, or has no teeth, smokes cigarettes but not marijuana, maybe even Charter school teachers, retired gunsmiths, people who believe in UFO's, IRS officials who tell the truth, anyone who has weeds higher than four inches in their front yard, cable TV haters, people who refuse to burn the American flag, those who are not Jane Fonda fans, or Pro-Life protestors, physicians who take the Hippocratic Oath, anyone who ever shopped at Hobby Lobby, etc.
The change in the City Charter, if approved, won't really change anything and if not approved still won't change anything. (Though it will break the city leaders hearts if not passed as they realize their citizens are cave men who drag women around by their hair.) Prop 475 is more of a "feel good" sort of thing for City leaders; they can pat themselves on the back for their tolerance and open-mindedness and inclusivity. I would hope the City and its leaders never discriminate based on person and hire and appoint people because of their competency to fill a position, do the job.
The present Mayor and Council members say this City Charter Amendment will send a message that Tempe is diverse and inclusive. But I thought it already was. I have a sneaking feeling that Tempe "moving forward" will indeed be diverse and inclusive but only for those who support a certain agenda; and for those who don't it will become inclusive in an exclusive way.
Like most Cities, Tempe has its share of problems so why not focus on fixing them instead of fixing something that is not broken?
Love, Fr. John B.