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Parker orders withdrawal of pastor subpoenas

They got what they wanted.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

With local pastors standing with her, Mayor Annise Parker has told the City Legal Department to withdraw the subpoenas filed against five local pastors who have identified themselves as the leaders of the petition drive to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO).

“This is an issue that has weighed heavily on my mind for the last two weeks,” said Mayor Parker. “Protecting the HERO from being repealed is important to Houston, but I also understand the concerns of the religious community regarding the subpoenas. After two meetings yesterday, I decided that withdrawing the subpoenas is the right thing to do. It addresses the concerns of ministers across the country who viewed the move as overreaching. It is also the right move for our city.

In a breakfast meeting yesterday, Mayor Parker met with local Pastors Rudy Rasmus, Jim Herrington and Chris Seay. She had a second meeting later in the day with National Clergy Council President Rob Schenck, Reverend Pat Mahoney of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Pastor Myle Crowder from Utah, Pastor David Anderson from Florida, Pastor Sean Sloan from Arkansas and two others.

“These pastors came to me for civil discussions about the issues,” said Parker. They came without political agendas, without hate in their hearts and without any desire to debate the merits of the HERO. They simply wanted to express their passionate and very sincere concerns about the subpoenas. The second meeting group wasn’t from Houston, but they took the Houston approach of civil discourse in presenting their case. We gained an understanding of each other’s positions.”

Thousands of the signatures submitted with the HERO petition failed to meet one or more of the requirements mandated by the City Charter and had to be disregarded. As a result, the petition was not placed on the ballot for voter consideration. HERO opponents have filed suit against the city in an effort to reverse this decision and force the issue to a vote.

Mayor Parker reiterated that this has always been about proving that the petition process used by the five pastors who identified themselves as the organizers of the effort did not meet the requirements of the City Charter. “That got lost in the national debate over the subpoenas,” said Parker. “Today’s move refocuses the discussion and allows us to move forward.”

The lawsuit is scheduled for trial in January.

There was a story in the paper on Tuesday about the meeting Mayor Parker had with these visiting preachers. I didn’t see any evidence of good faith on their part, but I suppose the Mayor did. When I saw this press release my first reaction was that it would not buy any goodwill from the HERO haters. I was right.

The move is in the best interest of Houston, she said, and is not an admission that the requests were in any way illegal or intruded on religious liberties. “I didn’t do this to satisfy them,” Parker said of critics. “I did it because it was not serving Houston.”

Regardless, the mayor’s critics were not quieted. Grace Community Church pastor Steve Riggle, who was among the subpoenaed pastors, said, “If the mayor thought the subpoenas were wrong, she would have pulled them immediately, not waited until she was forced to by national outrage.”

[…]

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Andy Taylor, called Parker’s announcement a “head fake,” and challenged her to not only pull down the subpoenas, but to drop the city’s defense of the lawsuit and put the ordinance to a vote.

“The truth is, she’s using this litigation to try to squelch the voting rights of over a million well-intentioned voters here in the city of Houston,” Taylor said. “It’s very simple why we filed a lawsuit: Because they won’t do what the city constitutional charter requires them to do.”

Plaintiff and conservative activist Jared Woodfill said he was glad the subpoenas were dropped, but he and others said a planned protest rally Sunday at Riggle’s church will proceed.

Quelle surprise. I personally would have said that if you want the subpoenas dropped, there’s an easy way to make that happen: Drop the lawsuit to force a referendum to repeal the Equal Rights Ordinance. No lawsuit, no need for subpoenas of any kind. Instead, I’ll make a prediction that not only will this unilateral action fail to satisfy the bigots, it won’t stop them from claiming that Mayor Parker is continuing to oppress them even though they got exactly what they were demanding. What will you bet that at least one speaker at that rally says something like that? Or that nobody bothers to tell those people sending all those bibles that they can stop now? Why let an inconvenient fact ruin a good victimization tale, especially one with such good fundraising potential? Yeah, I’m not thrilled with this decision – I’d at least have told the preachers to read David Gushee’s new book first – but it is what it is. For everyone else, let me recommend LGBT Positive Impact Day as an appropriate way to respond. Lone Star Q and Hair Balls have more.

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14 Comments

  1. John says:

    Kuff

    if Parker is so confident in this measure just put it on the ballot and she can shut up these crazy preachers. I just think Parker has become extremely arrogant, just put it up on a ballot and the discussion (and the crazy preachers) will all go away. She really messed this whole issue up and the subpoenas were just plain dumb by her. If anyone is naive to believe she was not aware of them, then I have a whole lot of real estate to sell someone

  2. John, there was a simple process to get a referendum on the ballot. Video evidence shows that the pastors in question understood what the rules were, yet they still did a crappy job of following them. If a judge rules that their mistakes were not relevant or whatever I can accept that, but I see no reason to concede to them. They screwed up, let them convince a judge it doesn’t matter.

  3. Steven Houston says:

    It has been explained to me that the subpoenas were likely sold to Parker in the following manner, they would be limited in scope, likely prove violations or at very least establish the rules were known about before being wantonly discarded to get the numbers needed. But anyone suggesting these preachers will remain silent with a vote on the matter is trying to sell oceanfront property in Arizona to people because it will merely empower them to push forward even further. They’ve proven that in all aspects of past votes so it would be a miracle if they would then suddenly go quiet.

    I don’t think the ordinance is needed as it duplicates existing federal law but suggestions that the ordinance itself cost lots of money is malarkey because it was not expensive, fighting for it in court one way or another is the expensive part. On a related note, funny how those mean old red light camera locations are proving the old ordinance to have had some positive worth. Maybe the families of those killed in those intersections can hold a prayer vigil with the men responsible for defeating the cameras (not exactly a cheap shot…).

  4. Paul Kubosh says:

    Steven, nice try. Let me say it this way chief Ottmeir putting that crap up was nothing more than a pack of lies. What is real scary is that he knew he was lying when he presented the paper. He and Police like him give H.P.D. a bad reputation. I figured they hadn’t seen Mike on T.V. lately and they wanted to give him some good press. Idiots.

    Maybe we need to change the City Government. Maybe we should go to a City Manager type government like Dallas. Does Dallas use a City Manager to call the shots?

  5. Kuff, I couldn’t agree more with your comments. If I’m the judge in this case the grandstanding plaintiffs have not a shred of credibility. Poor, poor victimized “Christians.” How exactly does treating GLBT folks with dignity and fairness hurt them?

  6. Steven Houston says:

    PK, given my limited dealings with city police command staff yet seeing so much of questionable worth coming out of them, whomever the next mayor is should just fire the lot of them or if that is not allowable, demote any of them who have served more than two years. I’m sure the vineyards of France would appreciate it since Ottmeir(sp?) reportedly spends more time there each year, an ongoing joke out in the county just as his demand to personally approve minute details without having a clue is mentioned when dealing with any form of coordination. It is my understanding that his claim to fame was being chummy with Chief Brown in the 80’s, his reward coming when Brown was elected mayor. Still, some of the information in that article sure seemed damning, if only a more credible media source would cover the topic so it wasn’t tainted by city influence…

    Dallas relies on a Manager/Council form of government unless they have changed in the last several years. Council handles overall policy while the manager handles the day to day operations. Houston would run better with either a better mayor (sorry Kuff) or a system of division managers where they were appointed by Council and subject to council approval instead of just the mayor. Any large bureaucracy can get out of control from the policy makers but in Houston, it serves as an extension of the mayor to be used and abused as the mayor sees fit. The best way to balance things out would be to empower Council at the expense of the mayor but term limits and gerrymandered council districts make that problematic too.

  7. Paul Kubosh says:

    Steven, good thoughts. I agree.

  8. Mainstream says:

    With regard to Steven Houston’s comment: “I don’t think the ordinance is needed as it duplicates existing federal law”:

    For a gay employee fired for being gay, or turned away from an apartment or a hotel for being gay, or kicked out of a taxicab prior to arriving at their destination for being gay, or refused service at a diner for being gay, there is no existing federal law providing any legal protection or recourse.

  9. Steven Houston says:

    Paul, as I’ve said numerous times in the past, we agree more than disagree on many topics.

    Mainstream, the bulk of the ordinance mimics federal law but if you want to split hairs, even with the largely toothless law, someone who wants to fire you in the city will just do so for any other reason. You may squeal it is simply because you are gay just as some do so now for one of the few traditionally protected reasons (sex, race, religion, age, etc) but ultimately, your recourse is limited short of compelling proof which unlike Hollywood fantasies suggest, rarely exists. The same holds true for all those other “protections” but think about it for a moment if you would. As a gay person or even a gay supporter, would you really WANT to work for someone who would fire you for something like that? Would you want to enrich the coffers of an apartment complex or restaurant that doesn’t want you or your money?

  10. Eastender says:

    I’m sorry Steven, but the argument that Gays should just take their money elsewhere or get another job, so we don’t need to worry about it, is really a very weak argument. Also being able to be fired on your job, or not leased an apartment, is not exactly “splitting hairs.” Sometimes you need that job. Sometimes you need that apartment.

  11. Steven Houston says:

    Eastender, it’s not a weak argument so much as a practical one. Most landlords aren’t going to discriminate, especially the bigger ones, because it’s bad for business, the same for restaurants and others. In most cases, you’re not going to be able to prove discrimination anyway so it becomes a feel good ordinance. That it exempts so many also narrows the focus down but for what amounts to a traffic ticket, I just don’t see the compelling attributes. I wouldn’t work for a bigot, wouldn’t rent from someone openly attacking another group, or want to spend my hard earned money at a restaurant that did so either.

  12. Eastender says:

    It’s nice when you have the luxury of a choice.

  13. Steven Houston says:

    We all have choices. There are plenty of restaurants to pick from, apartments abound in and around the city, and there are many jobs out there for qualified people. Wanting big brother to come in and force others to play nicely rarely works out as well as supporters of such legislation claim.

  14. Eastender says:

    There is no reason not to have this ordinance. Many cities do. The only reason people are against it is because they don’t like the GLBT community. It is what it is.