During their Tuesday, August 4 meeting, Gulfport City Council passed a unanimous vote to add the terms “Bullying” and “Cyber-Bullying,” to the city charter, chapter 26, also known as the Human Rights Ordinance.
The anti-bullying ordinance was introduced by Councilmember Paul Ray, who has not been shy about his history of being bullied as a youth.
“My primary reason for wanting to add bullying to our Human Rights Ordinances is I think it really balances out the already defined groups and actions that require protections” Ray wrote in an email to the Gabber.
Ray continued: “I have been asked if there were specific instances that motivated me into action and I would have to say it has been a collection of incidents over an extended period of time. I do not believe that an employer has the right to bully employees by bosses through humiliation in front of customers or other employees. I do not believe that a resident has the right to bully a city employee, I do not believe that any city employee or elected official has the right to bully a resident. I do not believe that any one utilizing any of our city facilities has the right to bully residents or events. I believe that we need to utilize whatever recourse we have depending on the situation in order to defend the victim and stop the perpetrator.”
During the first reading of the ordinance on July 7, Ray said, “As someone who has been bullied during my youth and someone who witnessed bullying in so many aspects of life here in Gulfport, I felt [Gulfport’s Human Rights Ordinance] had a glaring lack of recourse for the people in Gulfport when it comes to anti-bullying.”
As “do-good” as this may seem, the addition raised questions about the HRO as a whole: Particularly, how is it enforced?
“To be clear the ordinance strictly applies to the city’s application of chapter 26 – within the City of Gulfport,” said City Manager Jim O’Reilly. “Chapter 26 does not supersede county, state or federal laws.”
Here’s what the HRO covers, according to O’Reilly:
“Chapter 26 is to secure for all individuals within the city freedom from discrimination because of age, color, disability, gender, marital status, familial status, national origin, race, religion, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, and physical characteristics and thereby to protect their interest in personal dignity, to make available to the city their full productive capacities, to secure the city against domestic strife and unrest, to preserve the public safety, health, and general welfare, and to promote the interests, rights, and privileges of individuals within the city.”
O’Reilly continued, “The city does not investigate civil rights violations. Complaints related to the enforcement of a federal ‘Civil Rights’ violation or statute would be enforced by the United States government.”
If a city employee or guest of a business/organization that leases property from the city feels their rights have been violated, charter section 26.3 explains that the city will assign a Florida licensed attorney to be a hearing officer.
The hearing officer would have the power and the authority to hold hearings, take testimony under oath and do any other tasks required to investigate and resolve the claim.
O’Reilly pointed out that charter section 26.4. – Procedures; initiation of proceedings – provides the applicability and process of filing a complaint and requesting enforcement by the city, if appropriate.
Complaints must be submitted to the city manager within 180 days of the alleged violation. The complaint must be submitted in writing, notarized and must describe the event, including any and all details.
Within 30 days of the submission, the city manager or designee will address the complaint and follow up.
Any further action would depend on the findings.
“If someone feels they are victims of bullying I would encourage them to reach out to our police department, our city manager and most definitely myself,” said Ray. “I know all of the mentioned, and myself included, would be there to advocate for them.”
For more information on the HRO and complaint procedures, find the city charter here.