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Portage City Hall

Portage City Hall

PORTAGE — The City Council here approved a human rights ordinance Tuesday night, but came under fire for not going far enough.

"I am quite sad. It is saddening to me and offensive," said Edward Sims, pastor of Victory Life Christian Center in Portage. "Maybe some of you never experienced racism. I have."

The two-page ordinance unanimously approved by the council denounces discrimination and supports human rights, but ends there.

The original ordinance, drafted by Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham, and approved by the council's ordinance committee in October, not only denounced discrimination in any form but also set up a complaint procedure through the city. Under that version, the city would accept complaints and gather data. If necessary, the city would refer the complaint to other agencies. It would also set up a human rights committee and appoint a human rights coordinator.

While the original ordinance was approved by the committee, it was never presented in its full form to the entire council.

Sims told the council about his encounters with racism when he purchased the church building on McCasland Avenue about three years ago and how white men attempted to outbid him at the auction held to sell the building.

"They were afraid African American men were going to move in and bring property values down," Sims said, adding the adopted ordinance is "not worth the paper it was written on."

The Rev. Michael Cooper, of Metropolitan Community Church Illiana, also said he was "disappointed" in the document and criticized the Democrats on the council.

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"Democrats have no interest in fixing these problems in our city. Not one of you stood up to fight for a more inclusive Portage," Cooper said.

Councilman Pat Clem, D-2nd, said he did not favor the original proposal to "defend the tax dollars of our community."

"This ordinance came in wanting to have tax dollars to pay attorney fees if someone filed a report," Clem said, adding those who feel discriminated against have state and federal avenues to take to file claims. "A 22-page civil rights ordinance is not the city's responsibility."

Stidham called the compromise ordinance a start.

"We had to make a decision to do nothing or to take a steppingstone. It got something started. Had we done nothing, it would have died," he said after the meeting, adding he is hoping, in time, a stronger ordinance will be adopted.

"This is all about America, all about treating people right, all about opening our arms," said council president Mark Oprisko, D-at-large.

Mayor James Snyder also directed the city attorney to draft an ordinance to be considered at the council's February meeting to declare Martin Luther King Jr. Day a city holiday.

"It is time that Portage recognizes Martin Luther King Day," Snyder said.

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Porter County Reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for nearly 40 years, including 23 years with The Times. She's a native of Merrillville, but has lived in Portage for 39 years. She covers municipal and school government in Porter County.