Time to codify Parkersburg’s Equal Employment Opportunity policy

In February 2017, one month before Parkersburg City Council proposed the Non-Discrimination Ordinance, the City updated their Equal Employment Opportunity Policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity. This update is reasonable and in keeping with the EEO policies of most modern municipalities. However, the updated policy is used only in the city’s job postings and is not yet fully codified. Recently, Mayor Tom Joyce was quoted in the Parkersburg News and Sentinel: “We’ll continue to use that language because I feel it’s appropriate with the way we make employment decisions,” Joyce said. “As long as I am the mayor of Parkersburg, we will always hire the best candidate.”

As a member of Fairness Parkersburg and a resident of Wood County I am encouraged by the mayor’s strong statement. I also look forward to the full codification and implementation of the updated EEO policy through a vote of the city council. Even though the updated policy states “the City of Parkersburg is an equal employment opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, military veteran status, religion, age or disability in employment or the provision of services” this language is not yet included on the city’s job applications nor in the personnel manual. Joe Santer, the city attorney, recently stated to the Parkersburg News and Sentinel that its absence could lead to challenges of disciplinary action, including termination. He said, “I think it would be better if it was actually set forth concrete in the policy.”

An ambiguous EEO policy could also result in millions of dollars being lost in federal grants and private money. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission interprets and enforces Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination as forbidding any employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The codification of these protections is necessary in some cases for municipalities to be considered for grants and other money.

Joyce, Personnel Director Sondra Wallace, and Personnel Committee Chairwoman Sharon Kuhl all agree on the policy and I applaud them for this. However, it seems the vote for updated EEO policy is being stymied because of the efforts of Charleston lobbyist Allen Whitt of the Family Policy Council of West Virginia. Whitt opposes the updated EEO policy because it includes sexual orientation and gender identity. As he did during the Non-Discrimination debate, Whitt has once again spread false information via the Family Policy Council of West Virginia’s Facebook page and website.

Outrageous statements on his website such as “New LGBTQAI Employee Manual Would Open Public Ladies’ Rooms to Transgendered Male City Employees” are intended to scare the public and erode support. While the administration continues to make hiring decisions in accordance with the new EEO policy, Whitt’s message to the ill-informed is “the citizens deserve safety from sexually confused city employees.” Like a genie that can’t be put back in a bottle, Whitt continues to force his out-of-date and out-of-town point of view on Parkersburg. No doubt, he also threatens to bring hundreds of outsiders to Council Chambers to rally in opposition to codification of the policy, just as he did during the initial reading of the Non-Discrimination Ordinance in March 2017. Are these tactics, deployed by an outside agitator and paid lobbyist, the cause of the delay by the City Council to move forward with a vote to codify the needed policy?

Instead of turning fear into inaction, Parkersburg City Council needs to follow the leadership of Joyce and fully adopt the new EEO policy. Not only is it the right thing to do, it is the fiscally sound action. Potentially jeopardizing much needed federal and private dollars for the city due to the opining of a man who peddles in falsehoods, hate, and fear is unacceptable. It is time for council to make the right move for Parkersburg and fully codify the new EEO policy.

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Jeanne Peters is a local resident, small business owner and member of Fairness Parkersburg.

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