LINCOLN — Petition organizers said Thursday they have collected twice the number of signatures needed to force a public vote on Lincoln's newly passed gay civil rights ordinance.
But they plan to keep collecting signatures until the Tuesday deadline for turning in the referendum petitions.
Dave Bydalek, executive director of Family First in Nebraska, estimated he has heard from about 35 percent of 250 volunteer petition circulators.
He said those circulators reported that they have gathered many more than the 2,489 signatures necessary to put the proposal on the ballot.
“We have enough signatures, but we are far from done,” he said.
Among their worries now is a Wednesday letter to petition organizers from Lincoln City Attorney Rod Confer that questions whether the petition was properly drafted. Confer's letter said he could not disclose his concerns because of attorney-client privilege.
Bydalek challenged the city attorney's questions about the petition, saying it had been reviewed by a team of attorneys, including Bill Austin, a former Lincoln city attorney.
“We cannot see anything that would lead us to believe there's a problem with the petition,” Bydalek said.
Bydalek and the Rev. Al Riskowski, executive director of the Nebraska Family Council, expressed frustration that Confer would not share his concerns with the petition organizers.
Riskowski called it ironic that city officials would spend tax dollars to keep taxpayers from voting on the ordinance, which bars discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Confer confirmed that he has concerns about the petition's legality and said he sent the letter after receiving an inquiry from the petition organizers' attorney.
Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler, himself an attorney, said state and local laws require the city attorney to give legal advice only to the mayor, City Council and city officers.
“He cannot ethically represent both sides of an issue,” Beutler said, adding that it would be contrary to those laws for the city attorney to advise any party seeking to keep a properly passed ordinance from taking effect.
But Bydalek called the city's interpretation of attorney-client privilege too broad and said the petition is different from a lawsuit against the city.
“We're not the opposition. We're trying to exercise our rights,” he said.
Lincoln's anti-discrimination ordinance was passed May 14 on a 5-0 vote.
Opponents of the ordinance have 15 days from that date to gather petition signatures to require a public vote. They must gather enough signatures to equal 4 percent of city residents who voted in the most recent governor election.
The petition drive was organized by Family First and the Nebraska Family Council.
On Thursday, a handful of gay rights supporters picketed outside the Family Council office.
Mandii Villareal of Lincoln was there with her daughter and a sign reading: “Jesus loves all his children even the gay ones.” She said there should not have to be a vote on basic rights.
“I don't vote for straight people's rights,” she said. “They shouldn't vote for my rights. I should just get them.”
A similar anti-discrimination ordinance has already gone into effect in Omaha.
The ordinance passed the City Council on a 4-3 vote in March.
There were no attempts to block the Omaha ordinance from taking effect, but Riskowski said people are watching the Lincoln effort and considering an initiative petition drive.
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