Atlantic Beach City Commissioner Maria Mark is running for re-election this month after occupying the position for the past four years.
Mark is best known for leading the effort to pass the first and only inclusive human rights ordinance or HRO in Northeast Florida. The ordinance bans acts of discrimination against LGBT residents and visitors in Atlantic Beach.
During an appearance on WJCT's “First Coast Connect,” Mark talked about her passing the ordinance and what she plans to do next if she’s re-elected.
“I do realize that there are still some people, some of our citizens, in Atlantic Beach that did not agree with passing an inclusive human rights ordinance,” Mark said. “Some didn’t approve the process.”
She says some citizens would have preferred to vote themselves on whether there should be a human rights ordinance.
“I felt like it was our responsibility as the elected officials to consider whether to pass an HRO,” Mark said.
She says she can’t think of a single example where a majority actually voted to protect the rights of minorities.
“Name one anti-discrimination law that was ever presented to the voters,” Mark said.
She says every anti-discrimination law begins with the grassroots efforts of citizens, and it was Atlantic Beach residents who brought her the idea of a human rights ordinance.
“As an elected official, we are responsible for protecting our citizens, ensuring quality of life for everyone, and part of that is also ensuring protections and equality for all of our citizens,” Mark said. “And when it was brought to me that that was not necessarily the case, then I stepped up and I wanted to do the right thing.”
The City of Atlantic Beach passed the human rights ordinance in August of 2014 following a failed effort in August of 2012 to pass a similar measure in the City of Jacksonville.
Jacksonville is the only major city in Florida without these protections and the human rights ordinance was a central issue in Jacksonville's municipal elections this year.
Mark says passing an inclusive human rights ordinance is something Jacksonville’s Mayor Lenny Curry and the City Council should be considering.
“Major corporations — you know, Fortune 500 companies — have come out and said they absolutely would not even consider opening offices here or moving their headquarter here because we do not have protections for our LGBT citizens and potential employees,” Mark said.
But she also says she believes the majority of City Council members are interesting in revisiting the idea of a human rights ordinance.
“So I’m thinking that they’re on that right track, and I hope that they will continue to move in that direction,” Mark said.
Mark says her current project involves the redevelopment of Atlantic Beach’s business corridors.
“Mayport Road corridor is one of our biggest assets and liabilities right now,” Mark said.
She says she’s been leading the creation of a community redevelopment area by uniting the two sides of Atlantic Beach.
“The idea would be to bring unity into the community and I believe that this redevelopment plan we have will certainly help that,” Mark said.
The primary election for city commissioner is scheduled for Aug. 25 in Atlantic Beach.