A lawsuit was filed Friday aiming to block a Dec. 9 referendum on the civil rights ordinance passed Aug. 20 by the Fayetteville City Council. 

The ordinance provides for penalties against discrimination against people on a variety of grounds — including gender and race, but the addition of protection for gay people from housing and employment discrimination triggered a petition drive for a referendum. Conservative church groups and the anti-gay Family Council have led the fight to protect legal discrimination against gay people.


The lawsuit, with Kristin Higgins of Fayetteville as a plaintiff, says, among others, that the petitions were filed a day after 31 days allowed by law to call a referendum. Counting the day the ordinance was passed, the deadline was Sept. 19, the lawsuit contends, and petitions were filed the next day. The lawsuit also said the petitions did not bear the revised versions of the ordinance approved by the City Council and failed in other ways to comply with state law on referendums. It also alleged irregularities in signatures found valid by the county clerk because canvassers didn’t attest to residences and some of those approved have residences outside of Fayetteville. 

The suit also notes the dispute that emerged this week in which the County Election Commission decided voters should cast ballots for or against repeal of the ordinance. The suit contends this is confusing and misleading. The lawsuit contends the state law requires that votes on referred ordinances  be for or against the ordinance itself.. The lawsuit notes the county clerk made additions and deletions to the list of signatures she’d certified as valid after the certification decision was issued. And the lawsuit says signatures were dated after the date they were notarized, evidence of fraud in the process.


The suit asks that certification of the petitions by Clerk Sondra Smith be voided. If the special election is held, the votes shouldn’t be counted, the suit says.

Jeff Priebe and Deborah Riordan of Little Rock are attorneys in the lawsuit. Priebe is the attorney for the ACLU in the lawsuit challenging the state voter ID law.


I learned of the lawsuit from Keep Fayetteville Fair, an ad hoc coalition working to preserve the civil rights ordinance. Ann Shelley, chair of the group, sent this statement about the lawsuit:

Everyone needs to be able to earn a living regardless of their race, gender, or sexual orientation. Employees should be judged on their qualifications, experience, and the job they do – nothing more, and nothing less​. Fair is fair. The efforts of the group working to overturn the anti-discrimination ordinance have seemed designed to confuse and mislead voters.​ That is just not fair.​ If there are irregularities and problems with the petition process and it’s certification those should be examined.

Keep Fayetteville Fair, believes our city should invest in folks who play by the rules, follow the law, serve our country and work hard each and every day to build the future of Fayetteville. Keep Fayetteville Fair encourages Fayetteville citizens who would like learn more about their organization, to visit their website fairfayetteville.com 

The lawsuit, which names the clerk, city council, mayor and election commission, requests a speedy hearing. The group working on repeal can be expected to challenge it vigorously.