TAMPA — Kevin Beckner accused fellow Hillsborough County commissioners of condoning discrimination Wednesday for refusing to prohibit bias based on sexual orientation.
For the second time in as many months, the board narrowly rejected an appeal by Beckner, who is openly gay, to expand its discrimination policies to include sexual orientation as a protected class.
The board voted 4-3 in opposition, after a heated exchange between Beckner and Commissioner Jim Norman, who opposed his effort. Commissioners Kevin White and Rose Ferlita sided with Beckner.
"How thoughtless and pitiful is it for us to create such a discriminating policy," Beckner said.
The proposed new, tougher discrimination policies would apply only to employees who report directly to the commissioners, not all county employees. The policies spell out a process for filing a complaint of gender, racial, age and other forms of discrimination.
The effort was initiated after a jury in August found that Commissioner Kevin White sexually discriminated against a former aide. The federal civil jury concluded that White fired former aide Alyssa Ogden in 2007 because she refused his sexual advances, and also held the county responsible.
The judge said the county lacked a proper way for employees to report discrimination and have their case heard. So commissioners have sought to create a more structured policy similar to the one that applies to other rank and file county employees.
Beckner has used the effort to attempt to extend protections to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or how someone expresses themselves sexually. Wednesday, to make his point, he asked County Administrator Pat Bean and County Attorney Renee Lee whether they would condone firing someone based on sexual orientation, and if they had a problem with prohibitions against such action.
Ferlita reproached him for putting them on the spot and he relented, but picked up a similar line of questioning later with Norman. "I'm not going to be cross-examined," Norman said, prompting Beckner's accusation.
The Tampa City Council voted last month to extend its Human Rights Ordinance to ban discrimination against transgendered people. The county rewrote its ordinance in 1995 to remove gays from those afforded protection.