Fayetteville Alderman Rejects Resignation Call After Incident

Fayetteville Alderman Rejects Resignation Call After Incident
John La Tour, Ward 4 Position 1 Fayetteville City Council 410 N. Oliver Avenue Fayetteville, AR 72701

John La Tour, Ward 4 Position 1 Fayetteville City Council
410 N. Oliver Avenue
Fayetteville, AR 72701

An incident at a Dickson Street restaurant sparked a widespread cry for conservative Fayetteville City Council member John La Tour to resign.

La Tour, who represents Ward 4, said he will not step down. That ward covers western Fayetteville.

He said that on Friday morning he asked an employee at Arsaga’s at the Depot on Dickson Street what her gender was because “we live under an ordinance which lets me choose my gender based on how I feel that day.”

La Tour was referring to the Uniform Civil Rights Protection ordinance that protects gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination by nonreligious businesses and public accommodations. La Tour has long been a vocal opponent of the voter-approved ordinance. He was elected in 2014 with 43 percent of the votes among six candidates.

“They know I’m conservative; they’re terribly disappointed I’m on the City Council,” La Tour said. “All that this is about is to discredit John La Tour and make him look like a buffoon.”

A Facebook post by Fayetteville resident Gavin Smith states La Tour told the employee he was a man and could prove his gender by exposing himself. Smith called the comment “bullying behavior and unacceptable on so many levels.”

La Tour said Sunday his exact words to the employee were, “I am a man and I can prove it.”

“They just took it exactly the wrong way,” La Tour said.

Greta Allendorf, the Arsaga’s barista involved in the incident, said La Tour’s behavior was insensitive and unacceptable in a Facebook status Tuesday morning.

“I didn’t know who you were and just thought you were a jerk being a jerk to someone in the service industry. It happens everyday,” Allendorf wrote in her post. “When you apologized, you said it wasn’t your intention to offend me, but what was your intention? It seems now that whether you realized it or not, your intention was to bully someone who obviously didn’t share your political notions.”

A Change.org petition calling for La Tour’s resignation that launched Saturday night had almost 1,900 signatures by early Tuesday afternoon. Allendorf supports it.

“[Alderman La Tour is] governing a community that doesn’t share [his] oppressive belief system and doesn’t tolerate this kind of treatment of its citizens, regardless of the gender they identify with,” she wrote. “We no longer see you fit for duty. I hope you choose to resign your post, but if not, maybe you can choose to move forward, regardless of your beliefs, with an attitude of respect, compassion, and humanness towards your constituents.”

Kyle Smith, a Ward 4 resident and spokesman for For Fayetteville, a group that supported the nondiscrimination ordinance and started the petition, said, “We have a certain standard of respect that we expect (council members) to show to their constituents and anyone working here in our city. When he (La Tour) starts outwardly acting like this, it’s hard to justify how he’s good for Fayetteville in any shape or form.”

Cary Arsaga, the restaurant’s namesake, owner and co-founder, said Sunday morning he and La Tour have a history of spirited but generally friendly debate. Arsaga wasn’t present for the incident and said he wanted to withhold judgment until talking with La Tour. The employee, whom he did not identify, involved was “mortified” by all of the attention and didn’t start the online backlash, Arsaga said.

La Tour said the incident began during his regular Friday morning stop at Arsaga’s to meet a group of acquaintances. He said the music was overly loud despite his request to lower the volume, so he responded by dancing along with it. He intended to ask the employee to dance with him but wanted to confirm she was a woman, La Tour said, citing the ordinance.

“You can declare you’re a man or OVERSET FOLLOWS:you’re a woman, whatever you want to,” La Tour said. “I’m not going to ask a man to dance with me.”

He went back to his table, where a manager came and asked him to leave, La Tour said. A post on his political Facebook page said residents should never go to Arsaga’s again, but the post was deleted by Sunday afternoon.

La Tour often speaks of his religious opposition to homosexuality and transgender identity. He drew rebukes from other city officials during a council agenda session last month after asking whether a potential city contractor was a man or a woman and saying, “It’s hard to tell these days.”

City Attorney Kit Williams said the question wasn’t appropriate.

“They’re not funny if they’re intended as jokes, and they’re just unbecoming for an elected official,” Kyle Smith said of such statements.

Arkansas allows petitions to recall municipal elected officials from office. For Fayetteville hasn’t begun that option, but “the cry has grown,” he said.

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