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Human Rights Commission petition fails by 304 signatures

By JOHN MARK SHAVER

The Exponent Telegram

FAIRMONT, W.Va.  — After three weeks of counting, verifying and rechecking signatures, the City of Fairmont has deemed the petition against the Human Rights Commission ordinance insufficient, invalidating more than 800 signatures for various reasons.

According to Fairmont City Clerk Janet Keller, the city received 2,460 signatures in a petition against the controversial Human Rights Commission ordinance, which was passed by the city council Sept. 12. To be accepted, the petition needed to have 1,979 valid signatures, leaving the petition 304 signatures short with only 1,675 signatures.

The city charter states that, for a signature to be considered valid, the signee must be both a citizen of Fairmont and a registered voter as of the November 2016 election. Keller said that many of the invalid signatures violated one of those criteria.

“Some weren’t even in Marion County that had signed,” Keller said. “There were signatures where they just put their first name and no last name. There were signatures that were eliminated because they were not legible to read, or invalid because they were not Fairmont residents.”

Keller said that the city also received 35 duplicate signatures.

Despite the results, the ordinance’s opponents have filed a notice of intention to amend the petition, allowing them 10 additional days to gather the 304 needed signatures. If the group can do it, council must reconsider the ordinance at an upcoming meeting. If the ordinance is once again passed, it will go to a public vote during the November 2018 election.

Fairmont resident Kandi Nuzum, who filed the petition, said the outcome was not surprising.

“When you’re out getting those signatures, it’s really hard to know who is even (valid),” Nuzum said. “There are some ways that we know how to find out if they’re registered, but it’s basically by asking them. A lot of times, people think they are and they’re not. … We’re happy with that number.”

The ordinance reinstated the Human Rights Commission and added gender identity and sexual orientation to the list of protected classes, which Nuzum and others in the community took issue with. However, Fairmont Mayor Tom Mainella, a vocal supporter of the ordinance, said that these people are, overall, in the minority, and wasn’t shocked to see the petition fail.

“I’m not the least bit surprised, because I didn’t think they were in the majority to begin with,” Mainella said. “I got a lot of emails, a lot of phone calls and a lot of texts. I talked to a lot of people on the street, and I could tell that the majority of the people were not in opposition to that human rights ordinance …

“If they can find 300 or so more people to put their name on a petition that says they want to discriminate against gay people, then maybe they can (get the signatures), but it probably won’t end with that, because we’re dealing with radicalized, anti-gay zealots.”

Despite the setback, Nuzum said they aren’t giving up, and will do the best they can to get the additional signatures by next week’s deadline.

“There’s no reason for us to stop now,” Nuzum said. “We can do it. I don’t think we’ll have a problem. We have a bunch of dedicated people who want to see this thing go to a vote.”

Staff writer John Mark Shaver can be reached at 304-844-8485 or [email protected].

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