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A second attempt to shut down Missoula's equality ordinance was denied Friday - and a third revision went to the county Elections Office the same day.

The first piece of news came from City Attorney Jim Nugent, who reviewed the second "sample petition" and informed the Missoula County Clerk and Recorder it still isn't legally acceptable. He had pointed out errors to be corrected in the first go-round, but the revision didn't address all the concerns.

"I've been trying to point out things that would get them on the right path, and they don't want to go on the right path," Nugent said.

The petition is an attempt by a group called NotMyBathroom.com to derail the anti-discrimination ordinance the Missoula City Council adopted last month. It's the first law in the state to protect people from housing and employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

NotMyBathroom.com supporters oppose the law for a number of reasons, including fear sexual predators will attack women and children in bathrooms. They want to stop the ordinance from taking effect and ask voters to repeal it.

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One major problem with the first two "sample petitions" is the effort to repeal the city law was started by a person who does not live in the city or vote in municipal elections, said Nugent. Tei Nash, a county resident and chairman of NotMyBathroom.com, had turned in the petitions.

That problem appears to be resolved, though. NotMyBathroom.com leader Dallas Erickson said city resident Sonya Quackenbush filed a similar sample petition on behalf of the group Friday, and one that he said tried to address Nugent's concerns. At the same time, Erickson said he continued to dispute some of the city attorney's objections.

One is that people gathering signatures also have to be city residents and voters. The ordinance takes effect next week, but if NotMyBathroom.com members gather enough signatures within 60 days of its adoption, they can also halt it pending a public vote.

Erickson said it's clear only city residents can sign the petitions, but he disagreed with Nugent's contention that only city voters can gather signatures. He said he's working against a short timeline and will need help from many people, not just people who live in Missoula.

"We're going to have to have all hands on deck," Erickson said.

Nugent reviews the sample petitions and forwards his recommendations to the Clerk and Recorder, who approves or rejects them based on the city attorney's conclusion. The Clerk and Recorder has 21 days to respond to "sample petitions."

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Erickson is from Stevensville, a longtime morality crusader, and Nash doesn't live in the city. Before it was adopted, the ordinance drew much discussion, and people tracking its progress noted the attempt to quash the law had leadership from outside the city of Missoula.

"He (Erickson) isn't even in Missoula County, let alone the city of Missoula, and he seems to think he's a mastermind for these things statewide," said Nugent.

One letter that's made its way around the Internet has some onlookers, including one ordinance sponsor, wondering why Erickson in particular is intent on meddling in Missoula's affairs.

In Erickson's letter to the Stevensville Ranger District about proposed travel closures, he urged the management team to dismiss outsider opinion: "Please ignore the input you get from people who don't live here."

The letter has made its way around the Internet, and Missoula City Councilman Dave Strohmaier, who co-sponsored the equality ordinance, read it with interest.

"Apparently it's OK to dismiss the comments of folks out of the area if it deals with forest management issues," Strohmaier wrote. "If it pertains to legislation in Missoula, that's a horse of a different color. Does the phrase ‘double standard' come to mind?"

Erickson said he is not trying to sign the petition himself - just to encourage voters in Missoula to get involved and vote with a conscience. He said while he's on the other side of the issues in principle, he's doing the same thing the ACLU does when it works to further its positions.

"Getting the people of Missoula to be involved is meddling? I don't see that it's meddling," Erickson said.

If petitioners turn in enough signatures within 60 days of the ordinance's adoption, the law will go dark while voters wait to take it up, possibly in 2011. If petitioners miss the 60-day deadline, they still can place the measure on the ballot. They just don't stop the ordinance in the meantime.

Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at 523-5262, keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or on MissoulaRedTape.com.

 

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