HUNTINGTON — Three of the City of Huntington’s union agreements with workers were extended.
The Huntington City Council approved three resolutions to extend wage and benefit agreements through Sept. 30 between the City of Huntington and the Huntington Professional Firefighters Association, IAFF Local 289; the Huntington Police Fraternal Order of Police Goldstar Lodge #65; and Local 598, Council 77, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO.
Council members approved the resolutions by voice votes. None objected. All were present Monday.
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams told council members that the city was in the middle of negotiations with the bargaining units. He said that the earlier agreement would have expired on June 30 and the extension gives time to continue negotiations.
In the work session, Councilwoman Tia Rumbaugh asked Williams during consideration of the FOP extension if benefits being considered would help with the recruitment of police officers to the force. Williams said her comments were “very much in line with what we’re hoping to accomplish” but added that he did not want to discuss topics from the bargaining table.
In other business, an ordinance to ban conversion therapy for minors was given a first reading. City Council will vote on the ordinance during its July 11 meeting after a second reading. The measure was previously reviewed by the City Council’s Diversity Committee.
Conversion therapy is a practice discredited by leading medical and mental health organizations. It attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity.
City Attorney Scott Damron told the council that the city’s legal department drafted the ordinance based on legality. He said three cases in federal circuit courts found similar statues constitutional while another court found it unconstitutional.
He said 20 states have adopted statues banning conversion therapy and three other West Virginia cities — Charleston, Morgantown and Wheeling — have passed a similar provision.
“I’ve done my research, too and as I read, conversion therapy is somewhat of abuse from what I’m understanding,” Councilwoman Teresa Johnson said. “My issue was parents, telling parents about taking their children to therapy and I say again every therapist is not going to speak on conversion or trying to change sexual orientation. That’s where my issue was.”
Council Vice Chairwoman Sarah Walling responded to Johnson and said that the ordinance would not prohibit a therapist from speaking about sexual orientation.
“What this does prohibit is harmful practices like intentionally making youth who may be questioning their sexuality feel isolated or feel like they are less than anyone else. And that is what we don’t want to see,” Walling said. “We want to protect our children just like everybody else.”
People protesting the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, a landmark case that protected the right to abortions for nearly half a century, attended Monday’s meeting. The court rendered the opinion Friday morning. Protests and marches have been held in the region since the decision.
Gov. Jim Justice called the Supreme Court’s decision “courageous” and added that he “would not hesitate” to call a special session of the Legislature if “clarifications” need to be made to state laws.
The ruling made way for a 1882 state law to be in effect again that would make abortions in West Virginia a felony. The last abortion provider in the state stopped performing the procedure Friday.
About five residents addressed the council Monday. They shared their own and friends’ experiences with birth and abortions. Anna Strait recalled a friend who had died by suicide as a teenager after she was raped and became pregnant.
“I miss her every day. And that is the first thing I thought of when Roe v. Wade was overturned, is that her story will no longer be the exception. She will become the rule, and what I’m asking you, as people that are elected to take care of the citizens of this city, is what are you going to do to protect the most at-risk people in your city?” Strait said. “How are you going to reach out and take care of the people that no longer have the freedom to make their own choice? What are you going to do to take care of the people that chose you to take care of them?”
City Council members approved a two-year agreement between the city and the Greater Huntington Park and Recreation District for the operation, management and programming of the Harris Riverfront Park. The GHPRD Board of Commissioners previously approved the agreement at its previous meeting. The city and park board have had similar agreements in the past.
According to a copy of the two-year agreement, the city would reimburse the park district for “operations, maintenance and programming cost including personnel, contracted services, commodities and capital expenditures in an amount to not exceed $215,000.00.” The park board would contribute $47,300.
City Council members also approved a memorandum of understanding with the Cabell-Huntington Health Department. The agreement gives the department limited access to reports made through Huntington WV 311, the city’s public request and information system.
The health department can access a few categories of requests made through the app or online. The city’s Code Enforcement and Housing Inspectors work with the department on calls about trash or unsanitary living conditions.
The council approved an engineering services agreement with Terradon Corp Poca, West Virginia, for slip remediation on Memorial Park Drive. The amount is not to exceed $41,000.