As Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts takes a hard-line position on House Bill 2, four City Council members have bypassed her and started their own negotiations with state legislative leaders on a possible deal to end the controversy.
On May 5, Roberts met with House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger, who suggested that City Council vote to repeal the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance that led to HB2.
Roberts did not address the request directly in public statements. But she has continued to call for a full repeal of the law, and on Wednesday she told an audience of LGBT leaders that their rights are “not negotiable.”
On Tuesday, Republican council member Ed Driggs organized a trip to Raleigh to meet with Moore and Berger. He invited the council’s other Republican, Kenny Smith, and two Democrats: Vi Lyles, the mayor pro tem, and James Mitchell.
“The mayor has been (to Raleigh) before,” said Driggs. “I thought it was a good idea to hear for ourselves.”
He added: “Some of us question whether the cost is commensurate with the problem we are trying to solve.”
They had a face-to-face meeting with Moore and also talked to Berger by telephone at the same time.
The Republican-controlled General Assembly passed HB2 in March in response to Charlotte’s extension of its anti-discrimination ordinance.
That ordinance would have allowed transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify and would have extended anti-discrimination protections to LGBT people. HB2 pre-empted that ordinance, requiring people to use the bathrooms in government buildings that match what’s on their birth certificate.
Driggs and Smith voted against expanding the ordinance in February.
During the fall campaign, Lyles and Mitchell both pledged to the city’s LGBT community that they would support giving gay, lesbian and transgender individuals legal protection, including allowing transgender people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. In February, they voted for the city’s expanded nondiscrimination ordinance, which passed 7-4.
But in the controversy over HB2, the reputations of the state and Charlotte have suffered. Charlotte lost a planned expansion by PayPal, which was expected to bring 400 jobs to the city. The NBA has said it could move the 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte if HB2 isn’t changed.
Lyles has been open to compromise on the issue before. A year ago, when the ordinance was first discussed, she proposed the council vote on a version of the ordinance that wouldn’t have allowed transgender individuals to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.
At Roberts’ May 5 meeting with Moore and Berger, legislative leaders suggested that if the City Council would vote to repeal the ordinance, the General Assembly would modify HB2.
Council members declined to say Thursday whether a similar deal was discussed Tuesday.
If some council members negotiate a deal on their own, they would need at least six of 11 council votes to place the item on a council agenda.
Six votes is also enough to pass any sort of action. Four council members – Driggs, Smith, Greg Phipps and Claire Fallon – voted against the ordinance in February.
But Roberts could veto the council’s action, and at least seven votes are needed to overturn a veto.
Roberts was asked Wednesday whether she would use her veto if the council voted to repeal its ordinance.
“A lot of of options are being discussed,” she said.
Earlier Wednesday, at a meeting of the Charlotte Lesbian and Gay Fund at the Westin Charlotte, Roberts said the issue is “not negotiable.”
“When people talk about compromising on equality, I think: How? Do you make them half equal? It doesn’t work with math, and it doesn’t work with people. Equality is equality,” Roberts said.
She added: “We stood up and proved we support equality and inclusion. Regardless of how or what has come out of it, regardless of how the politics play out, Charlotte will continue to promote and support and display for the world to see our values of equality and inclusion. … That is not negotiable.”
Roberts was not invited to Tuesday’s meeting.
Lyles said she didn’t consider that a problem. “She had a meeting, and we were doing a follow-up,” she said. “It wasn’t one or the other.”
When asked whether she would vote to repeal Charlotte’s ordinance, Lyles said, “I think all of us are concerned now that we have had such huge ramifications. But I don’t know what we would vote on.”