Candidates covered little new ground during the forum. However, the Mayoral candidates directly addressed a policy question that affects the lesbian, gay, bi and transgender citizens of Shelby County for the first time in the campaign season.
The three candidates were asked if they would support an ordinance that established workplace protections for gay, lesbian, bi and transgender employees of the county and county contractors like the non-discrimination ordinance proposed by Commissioner Steve Mulroy last Spring. The Shelby County Commission approved a much weaker substitute resolution that only protected county employees against discrimination based on non-merit factors instead of the stronger ordinance.
Current interim Mayor Joe Ford was first to answer that he voted for the resolution that passed last year while still serving on the Shelby County Commission. Ford said that the county does not currently discriminate on the job. Ford said he could not commit to the ordinance without seeing the actual wording. To be fair, almost a year has passed since he's seen the original ordinance.
General Sessions Court Clerk Otis Jackson, Jr. stated that if asked the question 20 years ago, he would have answered no. But today, Mr. Jackson said that he has gay members of his family that compel him to support such an ordinance 100%.
County Commissioner Deidre Malone stated that she voted in favor of the original ordinance and the substitute resolution that eventually passed last year. She added that she took a lot of heat from ministers in the community after that vote but maintained she was proud of her vote.
These responses give Democratic primary voters something new to consider for the May 4 primary. Thursday's forum only included Democratic primary candidates for mayor which means that Republican Shelby County Sheriff Mark Luttrell is the only major candidate who is not yet on record on this issue. Democratic and Republican LGBT voters and their allies need to hear from Luttrell before the May 4 primary and the August 4 general election. Will he respond?
Early voting for county primary elections begins on April 14, 2010.