DURHAM — About 18 people staged a silent protest Monday night after the Durham County commissioners pulled a planned resolution opposing Amendment One from their agenda.
Originally, the group, holding signs reading “Stand Up Against the Hate,” planned to speak in support of the resolution, said organizer Barry Ragin. It would have put the county board on record against a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions.
But members learned Monday morning that the resolution had been pulled Saturday morning and they would be unable to comment on the issue. In general, the county allows only public comments relating to agenda items at its regular meetings.
Commissioner Chairman Michael Page suggested those who want to speak on the issue attend the board’s work session Monday – the day before the amendment will appear on the primary ballot.
County Attorney Lowell Siler said he recommended the move after he received a Friday email from the Durham County Republican Party questioning whether the resolution would violate a state law that prevents counties from using public funds to endorse or oppose a referendum, election or a candidate.
The email said county funds, computers, staffers and other resources have been and would continue to be used to draft and promote a position on the amendment.
“Once a matter is entrusted to the voters, the government must be neutral,” wrote Durham Republican Party Research Chairman Dick Ford.
Ragin noted many local governments have taken a stand. Wake County passed a resolution supporting the amendment. The Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill councils passed resolutions opposing it.
Protester Page McCullough said she expects elected leaders to “make it clear that we are committed to equal treatment of everyone under the law.”
Siler said he doesn’t know whether other governments had considered or been confronted about violating the law. The timing of the Durham County resolution was key in Siler’s recommendation as early voting started Thursday, he said.
“My job is to try to eliminate risk and try to protect the county,” Siler said
Commissioners, he said, have another viable alternative: stating their individual positions.
County Manager Mike Ruffin said Durham County canceled fall presentations by groups in favor of mass transit and sales tax increases after the Republican Party expressed similar concerns.
Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said she was disappointed, but commissioners don’t want to do anything that would result in a challenge to Durham County votes.
“I wish we had taken action several months ago, which would have been ideal,” Reckhow said.