A recent Scottsdale Human Relations Commission vote favoring a proposed anti-discrimination law aimed at private businesses has some questioning whether chairwoman Michele deLaFreniere has abused her position.
DeLaFreniere, a transgendered woman, is the complainant in an ongoing Arizona Attorney General’s Office investigation of whether Anderson’s Fifth Estate nightclub, in Old Town Scottsdale, went afoul of civil rights laws by banning transgendered patrons last fall.
At Monday’s Human Relations Commission meeting, deLaFreniere moved that the commission recommend the City Council pass a new law prohibiting discrimination against the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community in employment, housing and public accommodations.
She then voted in favor of the proposal, despite her acknowledgement that the law, if approved, likely would apply to the nightclub she’s fighting.
DeLaFreniere said she filed the complaint against the club as a private citizen, and it does not affect her role as a representative of the transgendered on a city commission.
“I have a responsibility to do what is right not for myself, but for the community as a whole,” she said.
While city attorneys deny the vote presents a conflict of interest because deLaFreniere does not benefit financially or materially, it has raised some eyebrows, including those of some council members.
Councilman Wayne Ecton said he’s concerned that deLaFreniere’s vote may be putting the city in a compromising situation. “I think she’s using her position to pursue her personal issues,” he said,
Councilman Bob Littlefield said it might have been more appropriate for her to have recused herself from voting.
“That might be a problem. That does give me a little bit of pause,” he said. “If it’s determined that she’s got a specific interest here, I think it would be better if she didn’t vote on it.”
However, Pat Dodds, city spokesman, said city attorneys believe deLaFreniere did not violate city ethics codes or conflict of interest policies because she did not receive any financial or material gain.
“There does not appear to be any conflict with Michele’s vote based on the fact that she does not have a substantial interest in the decision,” Dodds said. “She doesn’t stand to gain any financial advantage because of it.”
Tom Anderson, owner of Anderson’s Fifth Estate, 6820 E. Fifth Ave., said he banned transgendered people after receiving dozens of complaints from female customers, who objected to having “men in dresses” using the women’s restroom.
There also were problems with having transgendered people using the men’s restroom, because men harassed them and took their pictures, Anderson has said.
In light of deLaFreniere’s vote, Anderson said the Human Relations Commission has gotten out of control.
“I do have serious issues with having her creating her own policy to suit her own needs. I don’t think that’s right whatsoever,” he said. “I think the city should step in and pull the reins in a little bit.”
But deLaFreniere said the proposed law is patterned after others already in place in cities like Tucson. And, she said, by the time the law could take effect, her complaint against Anderson might be resolved.
The law’s purpose, she said, is to have citywide protections in place for the gay and transgendered community. “We’re not talking about Tom Anderson,” she said. “We’re talking about the city as a whole.”
Littlefield said the debate over her vote misses the point. “I think the bigger issue is not whether she voted or not, but what we should do with the recommendation,” he said.
Two other commission recommendations approved Monday include a proposed prohibition on contracts between the city and groups that don’t conform with city anti-discrimination policies, and extension of city anti-discrimination protections to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered city staff.